Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Madama Butterfly: Authentic production lacked personal touch

Hye-Youn Lee gave a magical performance Authentic production as Cio-Cio San
Hye-Youn Lee gave a magical performance Authentic production as Cio-Cio San

There are about 10 operas which get performed all the time, much to the disadvantage of the vast operatic repertoire.

Madama Butterfly is certainly a masterpiece — one of several by Giacomo Puccini — but it is a pity that most opera companies do not appear to be financially stable enough to take risks and do something different.

It is certainly less of a challenge in terms of attracting audience numbers to stage something like Butterfly. But how will people ever discover the extent of the operatic experience if not given the opportunity by the opera companies?

Of course, there are opera companies and there are opera companies. At least with Scottish Opera, which staged Madama Butterfly in a full Grand Opera House last night, high standards and quality are assured. This is not always the case with other visiting companies.

This particular production by Sir David McVicar was first staged by Scottish Opera in 2000 and revived this year by Elaine Kidd.

The first scenes only slowly prepare you for the ultimate emotional climax of this work but with Butterfly's appearance things begin to gel. If Jose Ferrero and Marcin Bronikowski as, respectively, Pinkerton and Sharpless, convincingly conveyed the lack of awareness of the foreigner, it was Hye-Youn Lee as Cio-Cio San who introduced a sense of contextual magic into the performance.

Her voice is well suited to this role and it would not be overstating the case to suggest that she looked the part.

Of the major roles, hers was also the most convincing vocally. Although still developing, her voice had character and a degree of strength which surmounted the demands of the writing.

Ferrero on the other hand, like Bronikowski, more than just adequate, sometimes lacked the bloom that you listen out for in amorous tenors.

Of the other notable singers, Adrian Thompson and Louise Collett performed with dramatic reliability and technical control.

Conductor Marco Guidarini established and maintained a steady pace throughout the three acts and there were moments of impact and touching sentiment.

In general, however, this was a production which maybe too impersonally presented the music, with competence and authenticity rather than totally revealing the depths. This Belfast run by Scottish Opera ends tomorrow.

Three stars

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