|Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) - Diego Torre (Pinkerton) in "Madama Butterfly"|
Alex Olle (La Fura dels Baus) – Revival Director: Susana Gomez
by Alfons Flores – Costume Design by Lluc Castells
Design by Alexander Koppelmann – Realised by Jason Morphett
realised by Jake Luther.
Mrs Macquarie’s Chair: March 24th until April 23rd. 2023
Night performance on March 24th reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.
|Diego Torre (Pinkerton) and ensemble |
Having been fortunate
enough to have experienced many stagings of “Madama Butterfly” over the years,
this particular version remains high on my list of favourites, due mainly to its
success in bringing the opera into the 21st century to make some
powerful statements about modern society, while still respecting the intentions
of the composer.
2014 season on Sydney Harbour, this production of “Madama Butterfly” has been
staged in the ruins of Caracalla and the Circus Maximus in Rome; the only one
of the HOSH productions to have been seen overseas.
in his program notes that the ultimate meaning of the opera is the loss of
paradise. Then by setting the opera in the present day, and utilising the
dazzling views of Sydney Harbour at night, with its spectacular skyline of
illuminated skyscrapers, opera house, Harbour Bridge and nearby botanical
gardens, this would be the perfect setting to illustrate this thesis.
designer, Alfon Flores, came up with a remarkable outdoor setting of lush green
lawns in a picturesque park where engineers can be seen busily taking
measurements as the opera begins. At one
end of this park, event organisers are erecting decorations and chairs, while
at the other end; caterers busy themselves arranging tables, chairs and
refreshments for a lavish wedding celebration.
activity, Pinkerton (Diego Torre), (in this version no longer a naval officer, instead,
a smartly -suited property developer), arrives with the American Consul,
Sharpless, (Michael Honeyman). They inspect the preparations, and check over the
legalities of his marriage agreement.
a cavalier view of his marriage to Cio –Cio-San (Karah Son). He regards it as a
bit of a fling, taking opportunity of the peculiarities of Japanese marriage laws,
before returning to America to find an American bride.
suggests to Pinkerton that he should take the wedding more seriously, the wedding
guests begin to arrive. Impatient to get the ceremonials over and learning that
his bride-to-be is also known as Butterfly, he tells Sharpless, “If I crush her
wings, so be it”.
|Diego Torre (Pinkerton) - Michael Honeyman (Sharpless) - Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) - Bronwyn Douglass|
magically staged entrance the marriage party arrives through a grove of bamboo
trees over the top of the hill. Cio-Cio-San is dressed in remarkable
cocoon-like robes accompanied by attendants who appear more interested in the
champagne than their bridesmaid duties.
introduced to Pinkerton, Butterfly tells him that while her family were once
wealthy, she has had to earn a living working as a geisha. As a sign of her
devotion she will renounce her religion to embrace his, and then proudly shows
him her treasured possessions, although hiding the ceremonial sword with which
her father committed suicide.
|Diego Torre (Pinkerton) - Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) - Sian Sharp (Suzuki) |
agreement is read, followed by fireworks, but while the guests are
congratulating the couple, Butterfly’s uncle, the Bonze (David Parkin), (in
this production a gang lord), arrives with his henchmen. The Bonze berates Butterfly
for embracing Christianity while his henchmen start overturning the chairs and
|Diego Torre (Pinkerton) - Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) - David Parkin (The Bonze) and ensemble |
steps in and orders the Bonze to leave, which he does. But so do Butterfly’s
relatives and friends, who, shocked by the revelation that Butterfly has
renounced her religion, also disown her. Butterfly and Pinkerton are left alone
among the debris. In a moment of intimacy, Butterfly reveals a large tattoo of
butterfly wings on her back, and as a large yellow moon rises over the horizon,
they declare their love for each other.
interval a remarkable set-change occurs in full view of the audience, which
heightens Olle’s Paradise Lost concept. An army of workmen move in, uproot the romantic
bamboo forest, tear up the lush lawns and in their place begin constructing a
multi-storey structure beside a large sign displaying “Pinkerton Construction
opera resumes it is three years later and Butterfly is living in a section of
this still unfinished building, with her faithful servant, Suzuki (Sian Sharp)
as her companion. She’s now eschewed traditional dress and embraced all things
American, wearing a T Shirt emblazoned with an American flag and denim shorts which
reveal her heavily tattooed legs and arms.
|Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San in "Madama Butterfly"|
nearly penniless, and despite Suzuki’s pleadings, she clings to Pinkerton’s
promise that he will return. When Sharpless arrives with a letter from
Pinkerton, she’s convinced that the letter is to tell her that Pinkerton is coming,
and unwittingly frustrates Sharpless’s attempts to read the contents of the
letter to her.
Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the marriage-broker, Goro
(Virgilio Marino) accompanied by the wealthy Prince Yamadori (Alexander
Hargreaves) and a marriage offer for
Butterfly to marry Yamadori .
adamant that she’s not available for marriage and sends both men packing,
before introducing Sharpless to her
child; Pinkerton’s son, Sorrow,(Kai Cihlar).
|Alexander Hargreaves (Prince Yamadori) - Michael Honeyman (Sharpless) - Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) - Virgilio Marino (Goro) |
Too upset by
this revelation to tell Butterfly that Pinkerton’s letter advises that he’s returning
with this American bride, Sharpless leaves, though not before promising Butterfly that he will inform Pinkerton
that he has a son.
shot signals the arrival of Pinkerton’s ship in the harbour, at which an
excited Butterfly joins Suzuki in strewing the house with flowers, before
draping herself in her wedding gown to go up on the roof to await Pinkerton’s arrival.
previous version of this production, Butterfly was joined by Suzuki and Sorrow
to sit all night watching out over busy Sydney Harbour, as they waited for
Pinkerton’s arrival, while The Humming Chorus” was sung by the off-stage
chorus. It was a magical and memorable moment.
|Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) and ensemble |
revival however, Butterfly sits alone on the roof while a procession of
presumably homeless people sing the Humming Chorus as they process past
Butterfly’s house. Regretfully, this change not only takes the focus away from Butterfly’s
reverie, it also resulted in some uneven singing from the chorus as they
struggled to keep pitch while negotiating the tricky steep stage in near
blemishes on the otherwise superb staging occurred at the end of Act 1 and Act
3, when the lights came up too early causing Butterfly and Pinkerton to destroy
the magic they had created by having to exit in full view of the audience, as
well, the surtitles are positioned about 12 inches too low, making them
difficult to read by the majority of the audience.
casting as the impetuous and tragic Butterfly, Karah Son acted with assurance
and achieved a consistently beautiful vocal tone throughout. Her superb
rendition of “One Fine Day” provided one of many vocal highlights during the
evening. Her Cio- Cio-San was no longer a prettily preserved butterfly pinned
and displayed as an example of the customs of a bygone age, but instead a
vibrant, modern young woman who saw her marriage to an American as a way to a
new life and prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve it
of the great tenor voices of his generation, Diego Torre filled the vast stage
with his mellifluous vocals whenever he stepped on stage. He brought depth to his
characterisation as the ambitious young man who didn’t recognise paradise when
he found it, thereby destining himself to a life of regret as the result of his
Honeyman, as the thoughtful, dignified consul, Sharpless, perplexed by his friends attitude to his
responsibilities but helpless to prevent the inevitable tragedy that resulted; Sian
Sharp as Butterfly’s warm, caring friend and confidant, Suzuki, and Danita
Weatherstone as Pinkerton’s American wife, Kate, all made notable contributions
to the production.
Castles-Onion, who’s conducted every opera so far in the Handa Opera on Sydney
Harbour series, drew a superb account of Puccini’s beautiful score from the
Opera Australia Orchestra ensuring that each of the luscious arias and
ensembles succeeded in capturing the joy and tragedy inherent in this glorious
|Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) - Diego Torre (Pinketon) in the closing moments of "Madama Butterfly"|
Images by Keith Saunders
This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. www.artsreview.com.au