Tragic tale beautifully told

Madame Butterfly

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

*****

Under the excellent direction of Ellen Kent, The Ukranian National Opera of Kharkiv's production of, what is perhaps, Puccini's best-loved opera is overwhelmingly, exquisitely beautiful and painfully tragic. 

There never was going to be a happy ending and I was enthralled from the first note; lost in the magic of the orchestra lead by conductor Vitalii Kutsenko, the breathtaking performances, wonderful, traditional costumes and clever set.

It is refreshing not to have to imagine that the hero and heroine are young, attractive and vibrant because - they just are. 

Korean-born soprano, Elena Dee plays the delicate, youthful Cio-Cio San (Madama Butterfly) and is the absolute star; her exquisite voice often moved me to tears.  Handsome, Ruslan Zinevych is the ever-smiling, American naval officer Lieutenant FB Pinkerton who takes advantage of a young girl's lowly position, her love and the dubious Japanese laws. 

He marries her to satiate his desire (or could it be love?) until such time as he finds a proper American wife.  The child bride forsakes her family for the dashing officer.  She tells him she is disowned but happy.   The sexual tension and rising passions are tangible as Dee and Zinevych display their superb acting skills in a long, moving duet as the wedding night approaches

PAPER HOUSE

The whole performance takes place in one set and designer Nadezhda Shvets captures perfectly the land of lotus and cherry blossom. Centre stage, set high in the hills overlooking the bay of Nagasaki, is the paper house for which Pinkerton has a contract of 999 years (renewable on a monthly basis, if that suits). 

He has a similar arrangement with his new wife the beautiful, delicate Butterfly, but she isn't aware, and he abandons her not knowing that she carries his child. 

Act 2 sees the return of the errant Pinkerton. Everywhere there must be flowers and the smell of spring and we are treated to a superb, joyful Flower Duet from the ever-attentive, Suzuki (Viktoriia Zhytkova)  and Butterfly. 

He still doesn't arrive and with the transition from night to day comes the haunting Humming Chorus.  Great use of lighting gives us the silhouette of the two women and the child as they undertake the tortured vigil throughout the night waiting for Butterfly's beloved Pinkerton.  He arrives with the dawn, but with his new wife, to take away their blond, blue-eyed child of their union, Sorrow.  The pain of losing them both is too much for Butterfly to bear and for me too and she takes her own life.

There are excellent performances from Ievgenii Lysytskyi, Sergiy Ledenov, Andriy Kalyuzhniy and Roman Tkachenko.

The performance is sung in Italian with English with surtitles and closed to a very well deserved standing ovation by many.  Wonderful. 17-10-11

Lynda Ford

 And another view from the hills above the harbour . . .

 ****

 LEADING opera producer Ellen Kent unearthed a diamond when she discovered young Korean singer Elena Dee and flew her to the UK for an audition.

Now the beautiful soprano is a star with the talented Ukrainian company, and her performance as Cio-Cio-San (Madam Butterfly) at the Grand was memorable.

Dee sang superbly and drew every ounce of emotion from the role of the 15-year-old Japanese girl who falls deeply in love with a dashing American naval lieutenant but faces heartbreak when he cruelly sails out of her life.

 Returning to Nagasaki on board his warship three years later, he has an American wife in tow, to the anguish of Butterfly. The gripping scene in which the audience saw the silhouettes of Cio-Cio-San, her son, and servant Suzuki (Viktoriia Zhytkova) through the sliding door of her home as they waited in hope through the night, was gripping.

Good to see young opera singers whose ages appear to resemble those of the characters they are playing. Ruslan Zinevych proved the ideal partner for Dee, perfectly portraying Pinkerton's casual early attitude to the love affair, and later his despair at the tragic outcome.

 I have only seen one better performance of Madam Butterfly than this - in the round at the NIA a few years ago.

After one performance of this Puccini tear-jerker, the company complete their visit with La Traviata, .on Tuesday, 18-10-11

Paul Marston

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