Madama Butterfly – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Sandra Callard
As openings go, the breathtaking wedding sequence set in a beautiful Japanese garden, for this touring production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly by Ellen Kent, takes some beating.
It embraces the whole stage, with many dazzlingly-attired guests. It is lavish and colourful and bodes well for another of Kent’s always original takes on opera classics.
Cio-Cio San is nicknamed Butterfly because of her small and dainty size and her elegant way of moving. Here, dressed in spectacular and original Japanese clothing she looks every inch the petite and innocent ‘Madama’ of the title.
Butterfly has fallen in love with Lieutenant Pinkerton of the USA Navy and he has promised to marry her, although Japanese laws regarding women’s rights are vastly in favour of the male. The husband can declare himself unmarried if he leaves his wife for any length of time. Pinkerton knows this and will make good use of it as he is certain he will shortly be sailing back to the United States.
Butterfly is sung by Korean, Elena Dee, in a beautiful soprano, as she joyously looks forward to marrying the man she loves. Her faithful servant, Suzuki, a great performance by Katerina Timbaliuk, helps her dress. They are married, Butterfly is in heaven and Pinkerton returns to the navy, promising he will return soon. The famous aria, ‘One Fine Day’, is played in snatches throughout the opera, but Elena Dee’s solo of it is nicely done and very effective.
Of course Pinkerton does not return and the famous drama that follows is heartbreaking. Pinkerton is sung by Vitallii Liskovetskyi in a good baritone, but his appearance is at odds with his role. He seems too old, too small, too paunchy to be a lover for the beautiful fifteen-year-old Butterfly.
Nevertheless there are some good performances to see. Vladimir Dragos is a small man with an impressive baritone who plays and sings the role of the United States consul in Nagasaki. He shows his doubts about Pinkerton from the beginning and fears for Butterfly. His acting is as good as his singing and I was impressed with his performance.
The story is so well known it needs nothing further, but one of the problems for a production of Madama Butterfly is how to play the small son of Butterfly, who is about two years old. I have seen it done in various ways, most commonly as a puppet, but this time it was done perfectly. A little child of the right age played the part like a seasoned actor. The actor did everything so correctly and carefully that he could have been years older, even kneeling blindfolded during the death scene, and never moving.
His performance was a high point in an otherwise satisfactory but rarely brilliant production, that never matches the dizzying heights of that opening sequence.