Saturday, 19 September 2009

Madam Butterfly - WMC 17th of September

Photo Neil Bennett from the WNO website

"Déjà vu dude," I thought as I bought my programme – weren't most of the cast present in the last production? Yes. Did I need to buy a new programme? Probably not, but at least I got to fan away the garlic devotee beside me who had obviously bathed in the stuff before coming on over to the Armadillo by the Bay©. To be fair he got a whiff of dog walking clothes (washing machine playing up) so I think we were about even.

Anyone who has read my meanderings below will know I'm not a big fan of Madam Butterfly, but out of a sense of duty I thought I'd better take in the tearjerker of all tearjerkers. (Plus the fact that I'm seriously double booked with both Wozzeck performances and won't be within one hundred and eighty miles means I won't have anything WNO flavoured to cover until February).

This was the first staged production of any opera I had seen several years ago and although it hadn't blown my socks off it did enough to get me hooked. This was partly due to Amanda Roocroft's superb performance and it was mainly her reprising her double-barrelled first name role that swayed my apathy this time round. Unfortunately I caught her on, what to me was, an off night. Maybe off night is too harsh. Uneven would be a better description. While she struck some lovely lines she struggled to maintain smoothness in her tone as she strived for her high notes. I'll doff my cap to her final scene though – riveting to the extreme.

One abiding memory I have of the first time I saw this production was the trouble the tenor had in being heard above the orchestra, and though this wasn't as noticeable a problem this time round Russell Thomas still had a fight on his hands when Carlo Rizzi pressed the volume button on his baton. Maybe a touch less oomph may have allowed a bit more finesse in the singing department? But returning to Mr Thomas – a gorgeous voice that begged to be listened to. I'm not so sure about the acting stakes – but to be fair Pinkerton isn't a role that's allowed to develop in sight of the audience, so it's safer to say – let's wait and see with regards to Thomas' acting. But for now the voice is more than enough.

Claire Bradshaw once again was a fine Suzuki who had spark aplenty. Neal Davies as Sharpless rediscovered his humane stride with ease as did another returnee, Philip Lloyd Holtam, as the wheeling dealing Goro. Yet despite all their efforts, and the wonderfully authentic sets, I left feeling the same way as I entered; untouched by a Butterfly.

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