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Review: Madama Butterfly at the Sydney Opera House

By Hamish Stening

Graham Murphy, darling of Australian Ballet, has put together a modern and visually stunning production of Puccini's classic, Madama Butterfly. Every image is masterfully composed, every character beautifully portrayed, and with Massimo Zanetti (conductor) and Jun Yi Ma (concert master) getting the very best out of a world-class orchestra and cast, this show will surely be remembered as one of Opera Australia's finest.

Madama Butterfly is the story of American naval officer B. F. Pinkerton's intense romance with geisha Cio-Cio-Son (nicknamed Butterfly). They marry, resulting in Cio-Cio-San's family disowning her, but when Pinkerton returns home to America and moves on with his life, Cio-Cio-San does not. Instead, she waits patiently (and heart-wrenchingly) for his return.

The opera is Italian-master Puccini at his best. The score is rich and emotive with strong Japanese and American influences, and the Opera Australia orchestra do a wonderful job in bringing out all of the score's beauty.

Graham Murphy's new adaption of the opera combines a striking set (Michael Scott-Mitchell), refreshingly modern and effective digital content (Sean Nieuwenhuis), clever lighting (Damien Cooper), beautiful and intricate costumes (Jennifer Irwin), and inch-perfect blocking. There is constantly movement and dynamism, and the show looks just fantastic. Every second of the production is visually appealing, and scattered throughout the opera are several truly stunning images.

Without a doubt, though, the obvious star of this production is Madama Butterfly herself, Karah Son. She will share the role with Mariana Hong throughout the opera's run, but on opening night, she stole the show. Her voice cuts through the richest orchestrations but is always warm. She brings the beauty and tenderness to make her and Pinkerton's instant infatuation believable, but also the pain and despair to make the opera's climax gripping and powerful.

Andeka Gorrotxategi's Pinkerton sounds fantastic too, but it is his sincerity and obvious chemistry with  Son that truly makes his performance stand out. The exact same could be said of Sian Sharp (Suzuki), although even a wonderful performer like Sharp isn't able to cover up the off-putting, almost pantomime ridiculousness of Cio-Cio-San's hand maiden in the third act.

But make no mistake, this production of Madama Butterfly is truly marvellous. I truly believe that it will appeal to everyone. It is modern, visually stunning, and musically filmic enough to be accessible to those who have never seen an opera, and creative, novel, and beautifully performed enough to appeal to even the most seasoned opera veteran. I wholeheartedly recommend that even if you have never seen an opera before, you should try to see this one before it closes August 10.

Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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