Madama Butterfly, New Theatre Oxford | Review

Monday, 26 February 2018

Madama Butterfly (UK Tour) 
New Theatre Oxford
Reviewed on Friday 23rd February 2018 by Donna Meredith

Being new to Opera, I arrived at the New Theatre Oxford keen to experience Ellen Kent’s production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

The story of young Japanese girl, Cio-Cio-San, who sacrifices her Japanese roots and traditions when she marries Lieutenant Pinkerton of the American Navy immediately captivated me.

As the opera starts, the matchmaker Goro is showing Pinkerton round the home he will share with Butterfly. 

The marriage ceremony is beautifully portrayed amidst much excitement as the bride is prepared for her nuptials. The vibrant colours and costume design are mesmerising.

The arrival of Cio-Cio-San’s Uncle Bonze marks a change in mood as he clearly displays his intense displeasure with her choice of husband and her contradiction of ancient customs.

Despite her uncle’s anger Cio-Cio-San enters in to the marriage idealistically, for lifelong love. The flighty Pinkerton however sees the marriage as a short-lived affair. He inevitably leaves the country promising to return in one year. Three years later Cio-Cio-San is still patiently waiting, believing that one day he will return and they will be reunited. Cio-Cio-San’s servant Suzuki is her loyal companion during Pinkerton’s long absence

In Act 2 Consul Sharpless arrives announcing the expected arrival of an American ship, Cio-Cio-San is filled with joy at the prospect of the imminent return of her beloved husband. She proudly introduces Consul Sharpless to her and Pinkerton’s son: Sorrow. Consul Sharpless does not have the heart to destroy Butterfly’s joy, by sharing the news that Pinkerton has remarried whilst in America. 

In anticipation of her husbands return Cio-Cio-San joyfully begins decorating her home with flowers. Whilst Suzuki and the child sleep Cio-Cio-San waits eagerly for Pinkerton's return. As the hours pass Cio-Cio-San gives in to exhaustion and joins her servant and child to sleep.

Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive at Cio-Cio-San’s home accompanied by Pinkerton’s new American wife. Cio-Cio-San is overjoyed when she wakes to hear her husband’s voice. Her joy at the sight of her beloved Pinkerton is clear to see. It is left to the ever-faithful Suzuki to explain to Cio-Cio-San the true intentions of Pinkerton’s visit. The realisation the he has not returned for her, but to take her son from her, and raise him with his new wife in America is met first with disbelief and then acceptance. 

The overwhelming sorrow that Cio-Cio-San experiences at the loss of her son leads the heart-breaking climax of this sorrowful tale as she takes her own life. 

I found the whole performance beautiful,mesmerising and ultimately painfully sad. The stage setting is simple and in fact the same for both acts. Clever lighting by Valeriu Cucarschi subtly uses shadow on the paper walls to give great visual impact. The Korean soprano Maria HeeJung Kim as Cio-Cio San gives an impressive performance, ably supported by Giorgio Meladze as Pinkerton and Zara Vardanean as Suzuki.

A mention must also go to Vasyl Vasylenko’s superb conducting of Puccini’s music.

It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with Ellen Kent after the performance and congratulate her on bringing together a very talented cast and succeeding in making opera accessible to the masses. I arrived as a first time opera goer and left as a firm fan – next stop Tosca!