Review: Madama Butterfly, Theatre Royal, Norwich

Madama Butterfly - Cio Cio San and Pinkerton played by Elena Dee and Ruslan ZInevych. Photo: Ellen K

Madama Butterfly - Cio Cio San and Pinkerton played by Elena Dee and Ruslan ZInevych. Photo: Ellen Kent - Credit: Ellen Kent

Eve Stebbing is swept along by the soaring melodies and tragedy of Puccini's poignant opera Madama Butterfly

There really is some wonderful music in Puccini's tragic work, and director Ellen Kent shows again that she has mastered the art of carrying her audience away in the emotional world of her operas.

The big worry as the curtain rises on Madama Butterfly is always that the acting will be wooden or that the Butterfly (God forbid) will not hit her top notes.

At the outset, I did wonder whether Maria Heejung Kim's performance as Cio-Cio San was going to prove to be a bit lacking in intensity. But by the moonlit love scene, which ends Act 1, I was completely won over. As for her voice, this Korean soprano, who made her debut as Butterfly at La Scala in Italy, could not be faulted.

Tenor Georgio Meladze as the callow Lieutenant made a great cad. His dismal line 'I am passionate to possess her, even if I crush her fragile wings', was eagerly played. This was a man who understood the potential risk of his actions and went ahead anyway.

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The story of the Japanese girl who falls for a ruthless Westerner was, alas, based on truth. John Luthor Long wrote a semi-factual account of such an incident, in which a geisha had a son by a British merchant. When the child was taken away and she was deserted, the poor woman attempted suicide. David Belasco created the original stage version and this was the play that inspired Puccini.

The composer, like others of his period, had a great sense of the exotic. While writing the show, he steeped himself in Japanese culture - its music and art. He wanted his opera to be extremely beautiful. In this production, lighting by Valeriu Cucarschi is the final brush stroke on a series of lush canvases.

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Under the baton Vasyl Vasylenko, the well-balanced orchestra is skittish and playful. But perhaps the night will prove most memorable for the very young students of Stagecoach Theatre Arts, who drew some well-earned chuckles from the crowd.

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