It is easy to become complacent about popular classics. But there is often a good reason why they have stood the test of time and Tim Albery's revival of Madama Butterfly for Opera North is a shining example.
First seen in 2007, it returns for a second season at The Lowry, with many of the same singers, including the four leads, from the acclaimed production four years ago. When all of the elements of opera come together well there is nothing to beat it, and they do so here.
Hildegard Bechtler's minimalistic sliding screens set is both striking and unobtrusive, contrasting with the extravagance of the colourful kimono costumes, and emphasising the starkness of the tragedy that is to unfold. Also reunited with the production is conductor Wyn Davis, who was in the pit for the first performances.
Madama Butterfly is a sorry love story, the emotions of which hold as true today as they did at the turn of the 20th century when it was written. U.S. Naval officer, Pinkerton who is stationed in Japan, decides that he wants a beautiful wife and he has the money to buy whoever he chooses. Influencing his greed and power he chooses Cio-Cio San, a 15-year-old girl, who falls in love with him and believes that he feels the same. The cross cultural match causes anger and she is renounced by her family. However, Cio-Cio San holds true to her love, even after he sails away and doesn't return.
Parisian born, Anne Sophie Duprels gives a wonderful lead performance, singing the role with a graceful naivety that draws us to believe both her youthful hope and pain. Rafael Rojas is a smiling, yet heartless Pinkerton. And the pair are given excellent support from Peter Savidge's knowing Sharpless and Ann Taylor's passionate, Suzuki.
The scene where Cio-Cio San waits for the arrival of Pinkerton's ship is heart-breaking. Even without singing a word, Duprels is sensational. Puccini's dramatic score and Peter Mumford's sensitive lighting combine to create the sense that we really have waited all night. The sense of longing that is created is as powerful as the tragic finale, and allows us to feel its full effect. It's a triumph that can't fail to move.
Madama Butterfly remains a poignant and wonderful opera and in Opera North's hands - it's still as stunningly beautiful.