Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

More beauty from ‘Love’s Poisoned Chalice’

Madame Butterfly

Welsh National Opera , Wales Millennium Centre , February-10-17
Madame Butterfly by Welsh National Opera The ravishing beauty of Reinhart Zimmermann’s set, the stage bathed in cherry blossom, with the sepia Japanese house standing in the centre of it all, is reason enough for the production to keep returning to the Welsh National Opera’s repertoire frequently since its first production under the firm hands of the late Joachim Herz in 1978. The irony that such a tragic story evolves in such magnificent surroundings adds an even greater poignancy to the closing moments of the opera.

Jonathan Burton gives us a somewhat seedy naval officer, Pinkerton, very much the sort of man who would think nothing of betraying his new vulnerable, very young geisha wife, Cio-Cio-San (Madame Butterfly); though the beauty of his singing belies his insensitive nature.

The American consul, Sharpness is critical of Pinkerton’s philandering ways. WNO regular, with his firm, true baritone, David Kempster gives us a strong, warm hearted and suitably consular personality.

In order for this marriage to take place ‘Butterfly’ has converted to Christianity. This doesn’t go down well with her family. As soon as the ceremony is over, her uncle, The Bonze (Buddhist monk) curses her, causing all her friends to abandon her. Richard Wiegold, a strong bass, from Wales gives him a piercing, menacing and commanding tone.

Butterfly pleads with her new husband ‘Love me, please.’ In this duet Burton’s beguiling, fine tenor melds perfectly with Korean soprano, Karah Son’s passion. But we know his affection is only skin deep and he is soon off, on his ship back to America. Son’s excellent musicality totally captivates the packed audience throughout the evening.

Three years have gone by. Now Butterfly, who has gained, all our sympathy is waiting earnestly for his announced return. But things do not go well. Suzuki her loyal maid, Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, with her rich mezzo and charming character tries to convince Butterfly he will not come back to her. Butterfly’s heart jumps as, through her telescope, she sees his ship enter Nagasaki Harbour.

The second act comes to an end but Pinkerton has yet to return, he knows nothing of the child Butterfly has borne him. We see little of the WNO chorus in this opera but the female members sign off this act with a very fine and moving Humming Chorus.

Puccini’s all consuming music continues to be played with great vitality by the WNO orchestra masterly lead by American conductor, Lawrence Foster. It now sweeps us into the final act of the opera.

Eventually Pinkerton returns with his unprepossessing wife. Sian Meinir more than makes up for this with her crystal singing and sensitivity. Cruelly it is decided that ‘they’ can do nothing for Butterfly but the child will be taken away into the care of the new Pinkerton family. Soon Butterfly is alone, deserted. Her child enters, she blindfolds him then she finds her father’s knife. A remorseful Pinkerton
rushes in but he is too late. Butterfly is dead.

Despite this tragic ending, Puccini has delighted and enthralled us with this wonderful music and Welsh National Opera has totally captivated us with is fine near forty-year production.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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