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WNO's Madam Butterfly at Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Alison Smith on 26th Mar 2017 | View all blogs by Alison Smith

by Alison Smith

Madam Butterfly

image copyright Jeremy Abrahams

Puccini’s Madam Butterfly (a Japanese Tragedy) is a passionate drama with beautiful music.  But it is also a tale of power and control, of abandonment, of despair and death. The words in the duet at the end of the First Act give a clue; the ironic ‘Love doesn’t kill, but brings life’ …and the more foreboding -‘If a man captures a butterfly he sticks it to a board’. Warnings of the tragic outcome abound, but the protagonists caught up in their love – love for Cio-Cio,  ownership for Pinkerton – ignore the implications.

The tale seems simple.  A relationship between a man and a woman, but the twists and turns of the tale are anything but. The man is an American naval officer in Nagasaki; the woman a very young, beautiful Geisha girl. The marriage is an arranged one, and for the groom a dissolvable one – an early example of sex tourism: cost 100 yen. Cio-Cio (Butterfly) believes this marriage will take her away from the difficult life she leads and open up new possibilities. She adopts Americanisms, calls herself Mrs B.F. Pinkerton, and changes her religion, for which she is rejected by her family. She is a faithful, loving wife, whereas  Pinkerton is  crass, shallow and lustful, playing with Cio-Cio until he marries a ‘real’ American wife. He is full of Western superiority with clear contempt for the Japanese and their culture. When he returns after three years with his new wife, Cio-Cio kills herself.

Madam Butterfly

image copyright Jeremy Abrahams

The setting is beautiful; the stage and costumes are in sepia shades. This lulls the audience into believing such tales only belong to nostalgia – like the old photographs of our ancestors; Pinkerton’s obsession with his camera underscores the idea that Cio-Cio is part of his holiday snaps. The technique of using shoji, the classical Japanese sliding screen doors, opens up the stage, but these screens also act to imprison Cio-Cio in her lonely married life.

Joachim Herz’s  version of Puccini’s opera, is a clever blend of delicate, oriental music and melodious occidental music; in the wedding scene the Japanese national anthem is incorporated and the Star Spangled Banner occurs frequently - this was the American Naval anthem until 1931 when it became America’s national anthem. The two stars of WNO’s Madam Butterfly – Karah Son as Madam Butterfly and Johnathan Burton as Lieutenant Pinkerton - excel in their roles.  Karah Son’s singing is first class and the expresses both innocence and heartbreak in a totally believable manner. Burton was so credible that he was booed at the first curtain call.

The WNO orchestra conducted by Andrew Greenwood is flawless.

 0844871 7652

 Booking fee applies.








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