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Madam Butterfly: A Review

Madam Butterfly

Madam Butterfly
Eternity Opera
Until 24 November
Reviewer: Max Rashbrooke

Eternity Opera is a still-new company rapidly gaining a reputation for smart, stripped-down productions. And their latest, an English-language version of Puccini’s classic Madame Butterfly, is no exception.

Its tale of cross-cultural love and betrayal opens with a simple but effective set, drawing on a combination of sliding doors and clever lighting, the latter subtly carrying much of the design’s emotional impact. A couple of things don’t quite work – some of the backstage is visible, at least from the right-hand side of the audience, and a stylised tree doesn’t quite convince – but those are minor points.

The performances are also generally excellent. Centre stage, of course, is Hannah Catrin Jones as Butterfly, who turns in a performance of beautiful singing and even better acting. Often at the opera the most one can hope for is a singer who solidly inhabits one aspect of their character, but Jones gives us the full range, from demure hope through to angry defiance and into despair.

Boyd Owen is likewise well cast as Pinkerton, charting over the course of the first act a subtle shift from a deeply unlikable man who treats women as chattels to one who is capable of being touched by love. He possesses a fine voice, too, if not the richest then certainly one with a kind of heroic intensity that compels the attention.

Elsewhere there are excellent turns from the supporting roles: Laura Loach, whose Suzuki is a masterful display of non-verbal sass; Kieran Rayner as the doleful Sharpless; and Jess Segal’s menacing Kate Pinkerton. But I was less convinced by Declan Cudd as Goro, whose voice and acting both lacked conviction. The orchestra – under the command of music director Matthew Ross – played so well that one barely noticed their reduced numbers, although the odd duff note in the strings was inevitably more exposed than it would have been in a larger production.

If there was one unsatisfactory aspect, it was probably the ensemble work, which was short of the clarity and cohesiveness one would normally expect. The soloists were occasionally out of sync with each other, and the famous Humming Chorus lacked its usual impact. But that is, one guesses, probably a function of there being relatively little rehearsal time available, and shouldn’t detract from what is overall a very strong production that, at its conclusion, deservedly had some of the audience on their feet.

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