Opera Australia’s Handa Opera Madama Butterfly sears with emotion. It is a splendid and spectacular offering, with surprises, against the backdrop of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
The story concerns a US navy lieutenant named Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton who takes advantage of a beguiling former Japanese geisha, Cio-Cio-San, in Nagasaki. While she – nicknamed Butterfly – is utterly devoted to Pinkerton, he has other ideas from the start, even though he is intoxicated by her beauty. When he sails on, she is in no doubt that he will be back, considering she has embraced all things American and forsaken her ancestral religion to embrace his. But before this is over, events will take a much more tragic turn.
Composer Giacomo Puccini has crafted a magical score with Japanese influences, which conductor Brian Castles-Onion AM and the Opera Australia Orchestra do justice. Soprano Eva Kong soars. Her passion is electrifying, as she lights up the night sky, fully immersing herself in the role of Butterfly. That includes performing the heartbreaking aria Un bel di vedremo (One Beautiful Day). Tenor Paul O’Neill’s vocal proclivity is masterful. The timbre in his voice is evident from his first note and is intoxicating.
I was also particularly impressed by the intonation of baritone Luke Gabbedy, who plays considered American consul Sharpless. Mezzo soprano Agnes Sarkis shines every time she is given the opportunity to assert herself as Cio-Cio-San’s loyal and devoted maid, Suzuki. Tenor Virgilio Marino revels in his persona as the scheming villain of the piece, the marriage broker Goro. Bass Jud Arthur makes his presence felt as Cio-Cio-San’s terrifying uncle Bonze.
The set design by Alfons Flores is remarkable. Large, extremely hilly terrain has been created on Sydney Harbour. The first act sees a wedding and reception take place, while the focus after interval is on the home Cio-Cio-San shares with Suzuki. Much credit must go to the crew behind the scenes, including the crane operators who work tirelessly to present a thrilling work.
With direction from Alex Olle (the revival director is Susana Gomez), there is a great deal to commend Madama Butterfly, which embraces theatrical and operatic excellence. Two hours 45 minutes, including a half-hour interval, it is playing at Mrs Maquarie’s Point until 23rd April, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Handa Opera’s La Traviata – opera review
- Tannhäuser in Concert (Hamer Hall) – music theatre review
- Lohengrin (Opera Australia) – opera review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.