Madama Butterfly is a staple of the operatic repertoire, so it is hard to believe that the original two-act version was so poorly received at its premiere in 1904 at La Scala in Milan. Puccini rewrote it in three acts to great success before reverting to the two-act formula that we see performed today.
Marriage broker Goro (Ruslan Pacatovici) shows US naval lieutenant Pinkerton (Vitalii Liskovetskyi) round the home he will share with his bride-to-be in Nagasaki, although American Consul Sharpless (Vladimir Dragos) 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 (Irina Sproglis), 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 (Bella Pierre). 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?
This is a beautiful opera, perfectly captured in this sensitive and moving production that hints at a vision of heaven but whose final scene touched me deeply.
Director and Producer Ellen Kent is to be commended for the exquisite set which is remarkable for its colour and imagery of late 19th Century Japan – a paper house with sliding doors set in a spectacular flower-laden garden with running water – and equally fabulous costumes rich in detail. The lighting transitions subtly reflected the change of season and time of day, with a clever use of silhouette to show so much more.
There was a strong chemistry between the cast that led to powerful, emotional, and heart-breaking delivery through wonderful pairings as well as solos. Dee’s beautiful voice – I adored ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ – gave us a mesmerising performance, with Sproglis providing wonderful support as well as her own high moments.
Liskovetskyi’s Pinkerton, a man obsessed with possessing Cio-Cio-San even if he crushes her fragile wings, displayed arrogant charm and disdain in equal measure. His Act-1 closing four-part love duet with Dee was to die for, her butterfly silhouette as she undresses framed by her fear of being pinned to a board, never to escape.
Dragos touchingly caught the impotence of an official who knows exactly what is going to unravel but can do nothing, other than offer sympathy and understanding, to stop it. His ‘Io so che alle sue pene’ with Liskovetskyi and Sproglis was particularly moving.
The Orchestra of the Ukrainian National Opera and Ballet, conducted by Nicolai Dohotaru, flowed through every subtle nuance with their ‘Coro a bocca chiusa (Humming Chorus)’ an absolute joy. Sung in its original Italian, English surtitles supported the action on stage with wonderful choreography from Stage Director and Chorus Master Victor Donos. Students were provided by Stagecoach Theatre Arts Alwoodley.
Madama Butterfly is touring throughout the UK and Ireland alongside Carmen and Tosca as part of Senbla, by arrangement with Opera International, Presents an Ellen Kent Production. Further details available at www.senbla.com and www.ellenkent.com.
As with all their touring productions, tonight’s performance concluded with the orchestra playing the Ukrainian national anthem and the audience stood as one as we acknowledged the resilience and courage that has played out over recent weeks.
To book tickets for the tour of Ellen Kent’s Carmen, Tosca and Madama Butterfly go to https://www.ellenkent.com/book-tickets/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 9th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★