Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A Butterfly That Soars

At Mid Wales Opera

Mid Wales Opera- Madam Butterfly , Theatr Hafren, Newtown , September 12, 2011
At Mid Wales Opera by Mid Wales Opera- Madam Butterfly “Have you got enough tissues?” a diner asks of her friend. The place is Trattoria, the restaurant closest to Newtown’s Theatr Hafren. It is an hour before curtain up on Mid Wales Opera’s regular first-weekend-in-September opening of their touring production. These audience members know what to expect. “Madam Butterfly” vies with “La Boheme” as Puccini’s most reliable tear-jerker. The production provides it, but director Stephen Barlow delivers much else besides. This is a tough-centred, precise “Madam Butterfly”, cleverly crafted for 2011.

The period of the original story and subsequent play is a hundred years or more ago. That was how Mid Wales Opera did it in their 2000 production. Here Yannis Thavoris’ set presents a wide billboard. It states we are outside Nagasaki’s air base. The era is that of Eisenhower. Pan Am is still a behemoth of global aviation, not the bankrupt of 1991. When Charlotte Stephenson’s Kate makes her late appearance she is in the severe uniform of what used to be called an air hostess. Madam Butterfly herself, in this time not long after the MacArthur occupation, sips out of a coke bottle. The television, brown and on spindly legs, shows its black and white American soap opera. A laundry basket is a gaudy red plastic.

“Madam Butterfly”, the director’s notes tell us, is the most performed opera in the United States. The production pursues the theme of cultural mismatch. Sean Ruane’s Pinkerton, in the Third Act, is an Air Force officer, soberer and deeper than on his first visit to Japan. At the opening, he parks his chewing gum on the underside of a rail. He retains his shoes on entering the home. He has a fleeting glower in his eye. The side of his mouth twists upward. He exhibits a blankness of response on being presented with a flower. It is strong, nuanced acting. At a particular angle of profile his face takes on a passing similarity to Toby Maguire. That normally cherubic face too, in “the Good German” got to play an ugly serviceman in an occupied land.

Wyn Pencarreg’s Sharpless, pained and compassionate, attempts to assume the paternal role but lacks the authority of the father. The cultural jarring runs deep. The Japanese bow deeply and gracefully. The responding bows are perfunctory and awkward. A group of Japanese form a seated quartet to take tea. Pinkerton stands alone to one side. There is a fine dividing line between clumping reference to contemporaneity and a director picking out new meanings from a text. This “Madam Butterfly”, probing the fallacious claims made for globalisation, is the latter. Consumer brands, common media images may straddle the world but the residual gulfs of culture are colossal. Simon Wilding’s Bonze erupts on stage, with his accusations of apostasy. Pig-tailed, a head band obscuring one eye, he is a genuinely alarming nightmare figure.

The production has two Cio-Cio Sans. On the first Saturday it is the turn of Stephanie Corley, a graduate of RWCMD, after Meeta Raval. She is asked of her options in the light of Pinkerton’s possible abandonment. In weighing up the return to a geisha’s life, or death, her singing rises to a deep pathos. With the lines “I want you to love me, to love me very gently” Stephanie Corley sinks down behind the railings of the set’s terrace. The caged butterfly motif is repeated by the use of a feathery net. Between acts two and three, during the orchestral interlude Declan Randall’s lighting plays with a palette of tones on her enclosed face.

Stuart Haycock is a spying Goro with an insinuating, gliding motion. Amy J Payne’s Suzuki sings with great force her warning of “It will destroy her.” Matthew Sprange’s sharp-suited Yamadori looks like a Yakuza member. Artistic director Nicholas Cleobury is conductor of the eleven-strong chamber orchestra. Deborah Cohen is assistant director.

Tellingly, for the climax Butterfly moves from her living room with its sliding Japanese doors to a foreign, wall-to-floor tiled bathroom. A billboard for Pan Am overlooks Cio Cio San’s home. It depicts a jet flying upward towards Manhattan. New York City’s Chrysler building, wreathed in cloud, lurches out of kilter towards it. For some it may be an image too far; it is personal judgement, but it fits.

Rachel Dominy, the company’s recently arrived Executive Director, writes that “Mid Wales Opera provides a really crucial part of the mix across Wales and England.” It is a fair statement. Twenty-three years on from its inception the 2011 production is as imaginative as any, and there have been many. Audiences in twenty-three venues between now and mid-November have a lot to look forward to.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

back to the list of reviews

This review has been read 2417 times

There are 27 other reviews of productions with this title in our database:


Privacy Policy | Contact Us | © keith morris / red snapper web designs /