Madama Butterfly

06/02/2008

Adrian Bhagat went to see Opera North's Madama Butterfly


Anne Spohie Duprels as Madama ButterflyPuccini's Madama Butterfly is a tragic story of the betrayal of innocent love by hypocrisy and cowardice. The opera is set in the port of Nagasaki, Japan, in 1904 where an American warship is harboured. In the first act, an American sailor, Lieutenant Pinkerton waits in the house that he has leased on a hill above the town. Through the slimy marriage broker, Goro, he has arranged to marry a young geisha and install her in the house. He doesn't take the event seriously as the local custom permits marriages to be made as contracts that can be easily dissolved if the husband desserts.

His bride, Cio-Cio-San, played by the excellent Anna Sophie Duprels, arrives accompanied by her extended family. She is a shy girl of fifteen, unaware of her own naïvety and clearly deeply in love with Pinkerton. The only other Westerner present, Sharpless, the American Consul, sees that Cio-Cio-San's heart will be broken and tries to warn the feckless Pinkerton, but to no avail. She reveals that she is to change her religion as she thinks of herself as an American and is disowned by her family. Later in the act, after the guests have left, Cio-Cio-San shows her deep respect for Pinkerton by washing his feet and he fulfils his desire to possess her. Duprels plays the shy, fragile girl beautifully in these scenes.

In the second act, we see Cio-Cio-San three years later, out of money and still waiting for Pinkerton's promised return. Now dressed in American clothes, she is alone except for her faithful servant and her young son whom she has called 'Sorrow'. Refusing to believe that she has been deserted, she rejects the wealthy suitors that Goro presents to her. In one of the most touching and famous arias, 'Un bel di', she sings of the day when Pinkerton will return and her sorrow will turn to joy. However, Sharpless has received a letter that reveals that Pinkerton has all but forgotten about Cio-Cio-San and married an American woman. His ship arrives in the port and Sharpless goes to tell him of the existence of the son whom he has never met whilst Cio-Cio-San prepares for his long-awaited arrival by decking the house with flowers. When he eventually reaches the house, he has determined to take the son back to America with him, but is too cowardly to face Cio-Cio-San and sends his wife instead. Cio-Cio-San is confused at first but, in a heartbreaking moment, she realises that the woman is Pinkerton's wife and that she must surrender her son. With nothing left to live for, she kills herself and, on discovering her body, the selfish Pinkerton realises what he has done and yet is apparently incapable of remorse.

This is a superb, very moving production, accessible to a wide audience and in keeping with Opera North's reputation for excellence. By adding, perhaps incongruously, a final scene in which a modern day prostitute observes the body of Cio-Cio-San, director Tim Albery clearly shows her as yet another victim of the sex industry.


Opera North will perform Madama Butterfly again on Thursday 7th and The Adventures of Pinocchio on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th February 2008 at the Theatre Royal.

 


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