Madama Butterfly Review

Festival Theatre, Malvern – Sunday 6th March

Reviewed by Courie Amado Juneau


Ellen Kent operas are known for their outstanding productions and tonight’s Madama Butterfly is no exception. It was way beyond superb!

Set in 1904 in Nagasaki, an American naval officer enters into a marriage of convenience with a young Japanese girl. He intends to divorce her when he finds an American wife and shortly after sails off on his naval ship…. She, meanwhile, devotes herself entirely to her new husband in the expectation of a new American life, waiting dutifuly for his return. Because of this she is disowned by her Japanese friends and family.

Both the principles (Elena Dee as Butterfly and Vitalii Liskovetskyi as Pinkerton) had gorgeous tone and strong projection, conveying the libretto with impactful assurance. They particularly shone together during their scenes at the end of act one, in anticipation of the wedding night with all it’s attendant hopes and fears. A lushly romantic piece of writing from Puccini. In fact his entire score has a lovely languid sensuality.

Dee has an effortless mastery of sustain and quiet notes and her anguished outpourings (those massive high notes that Italian opera is famous for) were spine tingling. The aria “One Fine Day” was especially moving. A masterful performance.

All the cast were fantastic but special mention should go to mezzo soprano Katerina Timbaliuk (playing Butterfly’s maid, Suzuki) whose acting, tone and vocal power were especially thrilling. She and Dee have a wonderful onstage presence and were utterly convincing in their roles. Their acting in the final scene was incredible, producing heartbreakingly sensitive performances from both!

The set was a sumptuous Japanese garden complete with running water and a house which was particularly well employed with backlighting to display some key moments in silhouette, an effect that was highly effective. The female chorus made a beautiful, mellifluous sound that was very beguiling, especially seeing them resplendent in their antique wedding kimonos, which were a real treat for the eyes.

Opera isn’t just music of course; it’s musical drama. This is the Italian verismo style where the composers wished to convey the realism of the situation, with all its consequences, hurt and pain. Powerful stuff. There is none of the English G&S nicety where abandonment ends well, in a return of love and a happily ever after. The orchestra (conducted by Vasyl Vasylenko) sounded rich and full, equally impressive in the subtle, romantic sections as the more strident harrowing ones, transporting us faithfully to the inner turmoil of the characters, through their sonorous playing.

Those few who were not already on their feet for a standing ovation were up when the Ukrainian flag came out and the cast sang the Ukrainian National anthem, complete with messages of support for the people of Ukraine on the surtitle screens! I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved during a night out.

A highly charged, emotional performance that deserved double the 5 stars I have to give it! I cannot wait to see their next production at this fine theatre.