I had not seen Madama Butterfly by Puccini prior to last night. Nonetheless, to those friends of mine who were close to tantrums because they couldn’t accompany me, you have my permission to drop to the floor and squeal as this is yet another sublime production by Opera Australia.
The pace of Madama Butterfly is a languid affair as opposed to ebullient operas such as Don Giovanni and the Merry Widow. The cast is decidedly smaller and the score, except for its more dramatic moments, upholds the libretto instead of leads it. This is not to say the score is not a standout; it’s truly captivating and wondrous but it engenders a certain kind of space in the opera that allows time for one to fully indulge the story, the set design and costumes. Except for fifteen minutes wh
ere Cio-Cio-San awaits Pinkerton’s return and my interest waivered, this opera is a spectacle in its own right.
What I cherish about Opera Australia’s productions is the level of dedication and commitment that is evident in each production. Madama Butterfly is no exception. Apparently three years in the making, the magnificent cast, set designs and costumes encapsulate the audience in a bubble of fantasy and transports us back in time. This time it’s the angular and sparse setting of a Japanese residence where the tragic love story takes place.
I’m not sure how much the notion of American imperialism adds weight to this opera. Sure I raised my eyebrows when I first read that it was about a 15-year-old geisha who is betrothed to a US Navy Lieutenant with duplicitous intentions, but this acts more like a framework than any serious theme. Neither, though, is the beauty and awe of opera lost in the saccharine of the libretto here as Madama Butterfly is fully realised in this production.
This review is not complete without acknowledging the two wonderful leads in this production, Hiromi Omura as Cio-Cio-San and James Egglestone as Pinkerton. Thank you for reminding me why I love opera. And to everyone who had their hand in this production, hats off to you all.