Although it is definitely one of Puccini’s darker operas, Madama Butterfly is cursed with a dedicated following of old ladies with bags of jelly babies who want to sing along to the blasted Humming Chorus, and producers are subsequently tempted to put on renditions that skirt away from the bleaker aspects of the story.
This is very much the case with the current production at the Playhouse by Ellen Kent, with it’s uninspiring rep theatre set, garden centre props and decidedly Caucasian cast, the only visual highlights being a parade of authentic kimonos in the first act and a few moments of shadow theatre which are let down by rather uninspired lighting design.
That being said, however, it’s impossible to not be uplifted by the sheer musical magnificence that is Madama Butterfly and – greatest hits of opera CDs notwithstanding – Puccini’s score is unsurpassable and is sung beautifully in this production. Maria HeeJung Kim, imported from the National Opera House of Seoul, is astounding as the irritatingly tragic Butterfly and is supported admirably by the haunting vocals of Zara Vardanean who puts in a stellar performance as Suzuki, Butterfly’s long-suffering maid, and the stage virtually lights up when the two women sing together, notably in the much loved Un bel di aria.
Giorgio Meladze sings well but is, for this reviewer, unconvincing as the odious Pinkerton. His performance lacks the necessary helpings of sleaze, though it is interesting to observe that he gets booed – pantomime style – at his curtain call; but Iurie Gisca lends a subtle gravitas and sly humour to the difficult role of Consul Sharples.
This production is not a great version of Madama Butterfly but it is certainly a good one and definitely well-worth going to see, with reasonably priced tickets and some good to outstanding performance.