Inside the auditorium several rows of seats have been removed to accommodate the huge orchestra but, even with that enormous space, it was also necessary to utilise the boxes either side of the stage to house more of the musicians. Under the watchful eye of conductor Gheorghe Syanciu, they delivered a sound all too rarely heard in touring productions – the sound that only a full orchestra can supply.
As the curtain rises we are treated to the first view of Nadezhda Shvets beautiful Japanese garden set, with a slightly neglected porch providing a central focal point. This is to be the venue for the wedding of the teenage Cio Cio San, also known as Madama Butterfly, (Rosa Lee Thomas), to the somewhat caddish Lieutenant Pinkerton (Andriy Perfilov). She believes it to be a marriage blessed by the gods whereas he sees it as something to do until a “real” wife comes along and so we set out on this tragic tale of love, betrayal and ultimate sacrifice.
The title role is pivotal to the success of the performance as it is extremely demanding. It requires the female soprano not only to appear in every scene but also to take centre stage in most of them. Lee Thomas seems to take this challenge in her stride and throughout the piece displays the strength of her voice and her amazing range admirably. In the ensemble pieces, together with Perfilov and [Vladimir Dragos as the US Consul, Sharpless, they fill the auditorium with a sound that is both rich and powerful.
The other members of the Ukrainian National Opera of Kharkiv company are also strong, particularly Viktoriia Zhytkova as Butterfly’s servant Suzuki, but ultimate praise has to go to Georgiy Forminichenko. His second act appearance as Butterfly and Pinkeron’s son clearly stole the show. At such a tender age – he can’t be more than four years old – he displayed a confidence on the stage that endeared him to the entire audience and, with the exception of a quick wave to a familiar face in the wings, his performance was as faultless as it was charming.
Ellen Kent has been supplying tours since 1993 and is, almost single handed, responsible for bringing award-winning opera and ballet to a mass audience. Her productions are always visually stunning, beautifully lit and performed to the highest standards and this production is simply wonderful and another well-deserved feather in her cap.