Madama Butterfly is one of the all-time great operas, regularly revived and much loved by audiences. It is not hard to understand why. It has an absorbing story, plenty of drama, love and romance, some humour, pathos, a terrific ending and then of course there is the music – and what music it is!
Due to its popularity and frequent appearances companies must feel some trepidation when embarking on yet another revival but Opera North needs have no worries as this Butterfly soars! From the first note the opera takes flight; with no overture we are taken straight into the story as Daniel Norman effectively conveys the darker side of the tale with his sleazy and cynical marriage-broker. The ugly screen ascends to reveal a stunning set by Hildegard Bechtler of sliding panels and later a beautiful backdrop of the surrounding country.
Tim Albery directs with a sure hand as the story unfolds bringing out every twist and turn of emotions. He is not afraid to reveal both the darkness and moments of humour and his control of the chorus scenes and the power and intimacy of the duologues is masterly.
The marriage scene fills the stage with sly humour and bickering including some lovely touches (the guest grabbing an extra drink etc.) and then this is followed by the heart – stopping duetting of Pinkerton and Cio-Cio so beautifully delivered and staged that we become almost eavesdroppers and voyeurs of their love and infatuation. Consequently, and this is a mark of the whole show we are on a roller-coaster of feelings that never let up and the orchestra under the conductor Robert Houssart ensures that every note and pacing keeps us enthralled.
As expected from Opera North there are some excellent supporting performances. Ann Taylor is a wonderful Suzuki, Andrew Greenan has tremendous impact in his debut with the company and Peter Savidge as the Consul is both urbane and sympathetic and all are in fine voice.
Noah Stewart is a vibrant Pinkerton full of swagger and with a charm and stage presence that fills the theatre. As Butterfly Anne Sophie Duprels is quite simply stunning as she encaptures every facet of Cio-Cio and moves effortlessly through every emotion. She acts as beautifully as she sings. These two leads are a match made in heaven.
Madama Butterfly looks and sounds stunning. This is a production that has everything. Be prepared to smile and cry – it will sweep you away.