Monday, April 22

Madama Butterfly – Opera House, Manchester

The heartbreaking beauty of this opera is perfectly presented by Director and Producer Ellen Kent in this sensitive and moving portrayal which captures passing moments of innocence and naïve humour but whose final scene touched me deeply.

Marriage broker Goro (Yevhenii Vaskiv) shows US naval lieutenant Pinkerton (Giorgi Meladze) around the home he will share with his bride-to-be in Nagasaki, although American Consul Sharpless (Iurie Gisca) warns him of the tragic consequences that may follow. The Butterfly duly lands in the form of young Japanese girl Cio-Cio-San (Elena Dee) supported by maid Suzuki (Natalia Matveeva), and they are married by the Commissioner (Vitalii Cebotari). Her love makes her willing to sacrifice everything which sees her disowned by her uncle, a Bonze (Valeriu Cojocaru).

Three years on and Cio-Cio-San and Suzuki are almost destitute as they await Pinkerton’s return. Shunning suggestions that she should follow local custom to divorce him and marry Prince Yamadori (Cebotari) instead, her hopes are raised by the arrival of Sharpless with a letter although he chooses not to reveal its full contents when she introduces him to her son by Pinkerton, Sorrow (Ivy Shi). The sound of a cannon from the harbour heralds the arrival of Pinkerton’s ship but after she emerges from a long night’s vigil, it is not him she discovers in the garden the next morning but another woman (Anastasiia Blokha): are our Butterfly’s hopes to finally be fulfilled or will tragedy ensue as the price of her honour?

The detail of the set is exquisite as we are transported to late 19th Century Nagasaki complete with a paper house with sliding doors set within a flower-laden garden with running water, matched equally by the richness of the costumes with traditional kimonos and robes. The lighting design by Valeriu Cucarschi subtly captures the change of season and time of day and the inspired use of silhouette is powerful in showing us so much more. I particularly enjoyed the backdrop which reflected the shimmering sea in the bay beyond, another of the little details that add up to a very satisfying whole.

The production benefits from the experience and long-standing relationship of its principals resulting in a strong chemistry necessary for some powerful, emotional, and heartbreaking scenes as Dee delivers a mesmerising performance with her beautiful ‘Un bel do vedremo’ still playing through my mind. Matveeva’s strong vocal gave us a more-knowing Suzuki, and I really enjoyed the resulting dynamic between her and Dee.

Meladze’s portrayal of a self-interested man, driven by obsession, is powerfully delivered with the right balance of arrogant charm and disdain lurking behind the four-part love duet with Dee that closes Act 1.

Gisca’s fine voice was complemented by some superb acting capturing the conundrums and frustrations of a well-meaning but ultimately toothless official who can do nothing to stop the inevitable events from unfolding.  I particularly liked his ‘Io so che alle sue pene’with Meladze and Matveeva.

Whilst some unforeseen difficulties with visas created a challenge for conductor Vasyl Vasylenko, there was no need to beg or steal, as he was able to borrow to bring the Orchestra of the Ukrainian Opera and Ballet Theatre up to its full complement although you wouldn’t have known as they played seamlessly with their ‘Coro a bocca chiusa (Humming Chorus)’ an absolute joy. Sung in its original Italian with English surtitles we were treated to some wonderful choreography from Stage Director and Chorus Master Victor Donos. Students were provided by The Cheshire Theatre School.

Madama Butterfly is one of three productions touring throughout the UK and Ireland with full details available at www.ellenkent.com  The tour is dedicated to the memory of Sam Shrouder, Ellen’s dear friend and supporter who helped to make much of this possible.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 12th January 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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