Touring – reviewed at The Lowry, Salford
Guest reviewer: Karen Clough
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly tells a story of the marriage between American Navy Lieutenant Pinkerton (Merunas Vitulskis) and young geisha Cio-Cio-San (Anne Sophie Duprels), or Madama Butterfly, whilst he is based in Nagasaki in 1904.
To Pinkerton, it’s a marriage of convenience; his purchased bride a temporary aesthetic addition whilst in Japan. To Cio-Cio-San, it’s a marriage of true and enduring love – she readily accepts the role of subservient and dedicated wife. Madama Butterfly is a tragedy full of inequality, exploitation and unrequited love, featuring cross-continent and cross-cultural disparities. Pinkerton, charmed by the novel beauty of his 15-year-old bride, is her ‘rescuer’ from life as a poor geisha. Rejected by her community, she commits to her ‘heroic’ Western husband, with a newfound sole purpose as his love and wife.
The audience follows Butterfly’s foreseeable abandonment, denial, naivety and pain in discomfort. She dutifully waits for Pinkerton, watching every ship come and go, for three long years. Her pain is softened by their son (Oliver Chambers) and the idyllic delusion that Pinkerton will come back to her. She is his wife and true love, after all?
The audience dreads what they know is more likely – he returns, but not to her. Worse, he returns with his ‘proper’ American wife and Butterfly is the last to know. Vitsulkis’ performance as Pinkerton is particularly strong in the final scenes, where the consequences of his flippancy and meaning of Butterfly’s love become clear upon her suicide.
Duprels gives a wonderful performance as Madama Butterfly, evoking her character’s emotions in the audience through her remarkable voice and performance. In Act II, as she excitedly prepares for Pinkerton’s return, Duprels made me hopeful he loved her too, whilst I braced myself for the predictable disappointment. This includes a beautifully constructed scene (Tim Alberry, Peter Mumford, Maxine Braham) between Butterfly and her servant, Suzuki (fantastically portrayed by Ann Taylor), who despairs as she reluctantly helps Butterfly fill the home with petals.
The audience enjoyed robust vocal and acting performances, accompanied by a first-class orchestra (David Greed, Andrew Long, Martin Pickard), across the rest of the cast. Peter Savidge’s Sharpless and Joseph Shovelton’s Goro proved especially popular.
As a newcomer to opera, I had doubts whether I would be able to follow the story, feel entertained or engaged by the style. Opera North declare an inclusive ethos and promote their work as accessible to all – with their informal approach, simplistic set design (Hildegard Bechtler) and helpful translation displays, I think they successfully achieve this.
Madama Butterfly is a captivating and moving production, go and see it and prepare to enjoy it whether you’re an Opera veteran or novice. I suggest you take tissues!