Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi llica
Director: Tim Albery
Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood
Madama Butterfly is part of the Fatal Passions season which Opera North is presenting this winter. This production is a revival of Puccini’s well-known opera and its powerful and passionate music speaks for its tragic emotions. Opera North has previously staged this production, but this current incarnation gives the audience a fresh look at the tragedy this season.
The two-act opera is based on John Luther Long’s short story, Madame Butterfly, and David Belasco’s play, Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan. The opera, premiered in 1904 and set in Nagasaki, is about Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly) (Anne Sophie Duprels), a young Japanese girl, who marries Lieutenant Pinkerton (Merūnas Vitulskis), a US naval officer, and how their relationship leads to tragic consequences. Its Italian libretto and Puccini’s ingenious score offers an insight into the contrasting Eastern and Western cultures in Japan at the beginning of the 20th Century. It is understood then how women there were contracted to their husbands more or less indefinitely and yet, in contrast, how quickly divorce can be obtained. There was no restriction to this law and it suggests its easy misuse particularly by men.
Hildegard Bechtler’s staging is modern but admirably simplistic with Japanese culture embedded in the design. The stage is well used for its integral scenes which transit smoothly through the performance, while Peter Mumford’s balanced lighting is neither is too bright nor obscure. One must admire the stunning Japanese costumes, particularly the kimonos, which are designed by Ana Jebens.
Puccini’s powerful musical score is well known, including its arias such as the infamous Un bel dì vedremo, which is sung beautifully with conviction and hope by Duprels. Many will probably recognise the melody of the United States’ national anthem in Dovunque al mondo. This marks Lieutenant Pinkerton’s (Vitulskis) presence throughout the opera and his uncommitted rather selfish approach to obtaining women and the right, under law, to leave them.
Madama Butterfly (Duprels) obviously is unaware of Pinkerton’s (Vitulskis) true intentions and this is evident with the sacrifices made and the moving duet of a number of arias, with requested reassurances from Butterfly, between them at the end of the first act. The build-up to the fateful end is reflected intensely with the crescendo of musical instruments especially the percussion including the crashing of cymbals.
It is certainly an opera of passions along with themes of love, vulnerability, betrayal, infidelity and sacrifice. The opera is performed excellently by the company of Opera North, and particularly Duprels superb portrayal of the title role. Puccini’s operas are well known for expressing such themes through its music composition and libretto with the singing in the original language.
A tragic but memorable performance of Madama Butterfly and is a recommendable production to see during this season.
Reviewed on 19th January 2018 | Image: Richard H Smith