TONY COOPER Norwich Theatre Royal
After seeing this production by the Ukrainian Opera of Odessa, it's hard to imagine that this opera by Puccini was a big failure at its first performance in Milan nearly a century ago – so much so that the composer cancelled the following performances. How times have changed!
The company has just started its UK tour and travelling the country until December in tandem with Verdi's Rigoletto, so it's not surprising to read in the programme that there are five singers sharing the central role of Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly).
And Rosa Lee Thomas, the only non-Russian speaker in the cast (she's a Korean American now living in England) was on stage on the opening night.
She gave a superb performance with some intensive and inspired singing with her voice delicate and fragile one moment and strong and robust the next. And with her small stature she fitted the role of Butterfly perfectly.
It was the final scene in the final act - let alone the big number of One Fine Day - that won her over to the packed audience, who were enjoying every minute of her performance. It was stunning!
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The audience certainly showed its appreciation at curtain call. Tatiana Busuioc, singing the role of Suzuki, Butterfly's maid, also put in a good and detailed performance.
But the man in Butterfly's life, the dirty American two-timer in the sailor's suit, Pinkerton (Akhmed Agadi), although strong and competent in his singing sometimes lacked the drama and feeling that the role offered him. His aide Sharpless (Vladimir Dragos) also found himself in the same boat!
A single set sufficed throughout with blossom trees in abundance and roses and lilac littering the stage along with a couple of waterfalls, Butterfly's house and four fish-tanks with the fish acting in a very strange way to the vibrations of the music and movement on stage.
It was slightly distracting and, at times, I found myself counting them. One thing I could not work out why there was a pinkish red goldfish when all of the others were a green-grey colour. Perhaps they had stage fright!
Hurrah for Puccini. He's a pretty good fella!
Madama Butterfly runs until Saturday September at Norwich Theatre Royal. Box office: 01603 630000.