Friday, 10 May 2013

Madame Butterfly

According to my sixth form English teacher, the definition of a tragedy is one where "you know something (bad) is going to happen but there is no way it can be stopped". Other events or disasters might be tragic, but a true artistic or literary tragedy is one that fits this definition. And so it is for Madame Butterfly, Puccini's operatic masterpiece: a classic tragedy.

Madame Butterfly flutters into town this week after a successful run in Auckland. If you managed to get tickets to this sold out season, you are in for a treat.

New Zealand Opera is in fine form and this production is stunning. Set in 1904 Nagasaki, Japan, this story of undying, yet unrequited, love is truly heartrending. Antoinette Halloran convincingly plays the lovestruck Cio-Cio San, who devotedly waits for three long years for the return of her American husband, Benjamin Pinkerton, but finds that his homecoming is not as she hoped for. Lucy Schaufer stood out as Suzuki, Cio-Cio's devoted maid. There was not much chemistry between Halloran and Piero Pretti, who played Pinkerton, but it was a pleasure to hear his tenor in this role.

The set features rice paper screens that are moved and adjusted throughout the show, using lighting to set the mood. This visual simplicity means you are able to admire the detailed beauty of the costumes and props throughout the show without being distracted by the scenery.

I loved this sign outside the theatre doors promising a loud explosion during the second act. Action! Excitement! What's not to love about this opera? We were warned about the impending explosion several times during the break, with the libretto hinting that a ship would dock and we would know about it because its arrival would be announced by an exploding cannon. It turned out to be quite a non-event, but did the job of building anticipation for Pinkerton's return from America. It also kept the man next to me awake and paying attention, instead of gently snoring in his seat like he did during the first act. Yes, really!

No need for alarm ...
Tragic. Painful. Heartbreaking. Beautiful. Madame Butterfly is an absolute must-see.

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