Northern Ballet’s Madame Butterfly is a sumptuously-designed and skilfully interpreted tale of tragedy based on Puccini’s acclaimed opera. In David Nixon’s ballet East meets West with great effect. This is an exceptionally stylish production across the board, beginning with Nixon’s clever chorography and costume design, Ali Allen’s clean design, Peter Mumford’s subtle lighting and music arranged by John Longstaf and directed by John Pryce-Jones. The company copes well with the challenging – though well balanced - blend of classical ballet and Japanese influences. This is particularly enjoyable in the celebratory group wedding dances and Butterfly’s finale.
Innocence, love and betrayal unfold in the picturesque gardens of a Japanese Villa. Butterfly is a young, fragile geisha who sacrifices everything for the love of American Lieutenant Pinkerton, who deserts her and their child, returning years later with his new wife. Abandoned and betrayed, Butterfly is left with only one honourable course of action.
There are some elements of the story which would benefit from the explanation afforded by a libretto - particularly for audience members unfamiliar with the story - but this doesn’t detract from appreciation of the most important aspects of the full story. As Butterfly, Julie Charlet’s performance teases out all aspects of her character – her fragility, shyness, patience, love and duty. As Kate, Pinkerton’s American wife, Martha Leebolt makes a strong impact bringing understanding and care to a near-impossible situation. The brief moments Kate and Butterfly share are surprisingly tender.
Stand-out scenes include the beautiful nightmares of the second Act where Butterfly imagines Pinkerton and his new wife, multiplied. Similarly, the end of Act One wedding night shows Butterfly and Pinkerton (Kenneth Tindall) slowly coming together. This duet is beautifully moving, the lightest of Pinkerton’s touches supports Butterfly
Butterfly’s final solo is powerfully dramatic; the stage changes from soft pastels to black and red and the music brings in a Japanese vocal for the first time. It’s a breathtaking finale and Charlet’s interpretation of Butterfly’s return from American to Japanese culture and tradition is stunning; the final movement of her hands - familiar from her duet with Pinkerton – is simply heartbreaking.