A Slice of Operatic Cake 9: Madama Butterfly
I'm a little bit later to the party with this one, but on 24th February I managed to see Opera North's revival of its latest production of Puccini's 'Madama Butterfly'. I didn't see the three operas of this season in the order they premiered, but I feel I certainly saw them in the right order. While in the Verdi, there was perhaps not enough going on, and in the Mozart perhaps too much, this Puccini finds the sweet spot just in the middle to great effect.
Hildegard Bechtler's simple yet versatile set design coupled with Ana Jebens' more elaborate costumes worked extremely well. Tim Albery, as director, adds some magic to the mix, with some incredible scenes (especially involving rose petals) which both looked and sounded beautiful. The use of props, movement from Maxine Braham and some expert sunset lighting from Peter Mumford were a great addition, and the many aspects worked seamlessly together with no noticeable prop malfunctions. Each element, when combined, created something worth far more than their already impressive parts.
The orchestra of Opera North under the baton of Anthony Kraus (who had briefly taken over from regular conductor Martin Pickard) took the emotion in Puccini's music and really brought it to the next level. Perhaps, on occasion, too much as it drowned out the singers, but the music was always powerful and brilliantly performed. Anne Sophie Duprels as Cio-Cio San was damn near perfect, eliciting empathy in her acting and working meaningfully and almost symbiotically with the music to create something truly impacting. The opera itself is painfully tragic, with a good deal of the second (unusually longer) half building with tragic dramatic irony which was executed perfectly.
This was nothing short of a fantastic piece, put on fantastically by some fantastic people. If the last season of opera showed the company's innovation, this season has shown its ability to stage a classic masterfully. Its production of Madama Butterfly certainly is something to be proud of (maybe because it has had far longer to become slick and well executed than its new production of Ballo). Accessible yet deeply moving and thought provoking, I'd highly recommend catching its closing night tomorrow (28/2) or trying to grab a seat as it tours!