Magnificent moments in moving WNO Butterfly

WNO production of Madam Butterfly. Photo by Jeni Clegg.
WNO production of Madam Butterfly. Photo by Jeni Clegg.
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The Welsh National Opera conclude a week’s tour to Milton Keynes Theatre with a final performance of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly tomorrow, Saturday.

In its first themed season, entitled Free Spirits, the WNO has presented three operas – Butterfly, Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen and Berg’s Lulu.

The WNO’s touring productions are always first rate, and Madam Butterfly is no exception.

This version, by Joachim Herz, is based on the first, second and third versions of Puccini’s opera, first performed in 1904.

It is the heartbreaking story of a young geisha, Cio-Cio-San or Madam Butterfly, and her ill-fated marriage to US naval officer Lieutenat Pinkerton.

Following the wedding, Butterfly faces rejection by her family, but has complete faith in her cad of a husband, whom she adores.

When his ship sails, she firmly believes he will return.

But when he does, three years later, it heralds tragedy for Butterfly.

The very moving production is staged in muted colours like an old sepia photograph.

Cheryl Barker was a fragile yet determined Butterfly.

And Gwyn Hughes-Jones was convincing as the passionate but shallow Pinkerton, although sadly his voice was sometimes swamped by the orchestra .

In both voice and performance, Alan Opie was outstanding as Sharpless, the American consul, who sees from the very start what is going on but is powerless to do anything about it.

There were also excellent performances from Claire Bradshaw as Butterfly’s maid Suzuki and the child actor playing Butterfly’s infant child.

The music came home with me, and there were moments in this production I will remember for a very long time, such as the interlude between Scenes 1 and 2 of Act 2.

Butterfly has at last seen her husband’s ship return to harbour and her household waits, motionless, for him to come.

On the stage, nothing whatsoever was happening, and yet you could have heard a pin drop.

It was pure magic.

Review by Hannah Richardson