Madam Butterfly is the powerful opera by Giacomo Puccini which depicts the story of Cio-Cio-San or ‘Madam Butterfly’ who partakes in an arranged marriage with Lieutenant Pinkerton. The marriage is one of convenience for Pinkerton but Butterfly falls in love with him and the marriage and Butterfly’s story ends in tragedy.
The set and design for the opera was intricate but simple at the same time with the lack of set changes due to the fixed setting of Nagasaki. The design was traditional Japanese Shoji screens representing Butterfly and Pinkerton’s house. The screens were used cleverly by the cast by moving the screens to separate the different rooms of the house. Due to the thin see-through screens, when they were closed it was still easy to see through especially when Butterfly, her son and her servant Suzuki were peeking through them waiting for Pinkerton’s return. The top of the stage was strewn with floral arrangements which were beautifully detailed. Along with the appearance of the staging, there were subtitles running throughout the performance due to the Italian singing. One screen was the English translation and the other was in Welsh. This helped and hindered the performance – if you are a fast reader, it is no problem and you can quickly scan what is being sung and carry on concentrating on the singing, but if you’re slower at reading, it can be a bit distracting. However with the translation, came some of the comedy in the performance. Although it is a tragedy, there are certain lines that are quite funny, especially when in her excitement, Butterfly interrupts the Consul when he attempts to give her bad news about Pinkerton and his lines when sung so beautifully and acted so overtly did receive a fair few laughs.
The music was beautifully played and absolutely flawless – the talented orchestra conducted by Lawrence Foster performed faultlessly. Jonathan Burton played Pinkerton and his vocals were the highlight of the evening alongside his acting performance. A particular highlight was Burton’s bow as he walked onto stage to boos and his cowering and attempt to run off stage and his apologies to the crowd was a happy addition and ending to such an emotional performance. Karah Son who played the title role of Madam Butterfly, perfectly showcased her vocal talents. Her high notes were beautifully sung and her and Pinkerton’s love song was extremely strong. The acting was also great – in the first half it wasn’t so believable that Butterfly was in love with Pinkerton but in the second act, Son’s acting was elevated and her emotions of love and heartbreak werd touching and her suicide was a devastating end to the tragedy. If you are wary of opera, Madam Butterfly is a must-see and an amazing entrance into the world of opera. Some of the pieces in the opera are quite recognisable from other mediums and adverts so it’s an easy opera to watch and get into… but bring tissues!
Beth Girdler- Maslen