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Soaring Butterfly scales the heights

14 May 2015

Soaring Butterfly scales the heights Image

By Eleanor Laud

I had always assumed that opera probably wasn’t for me, with its sense of overwhelming drama and costumes belonging to a different world.

No, folk music was more my style and would remain so. Opera was for others. But then I came across Moffat Oxenbould’s production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and my thinking changed.

Butterfly’s story is tragic, dramatic and intensely moving and thanks to the subtitles in this production I understood more than I had expected.

I was moved by both the beauty and the sorrow in a profound way to the point where, days later, I was still haunted by the plight of Hiromi Omura’s Cio-Cio-San – and you don’t get that in folk music.

The doomed and hopeless love story of an American naval officer (Pinkerton) and a former Japanese geisha (Cio-Cio-San) nicknamed Butterfly is told in epic, sweeping melodies. The heartbreaking Un Bel Di Vedremo (One Beautiful Day) soars with an optimism underpinned by a deep melancholy.

While traditionalists might not be totally at ease with giving a new-look and a new treatment to well-loved operas I thought the costumes were both appropriate and impressive. A restrained simplicity afforded elegance to the simple set, and included elements of Kabuki Theatre, as well as wood, water and fire. Even the billowing draped silks seemed to have a voice of their own, which added to the emotion of the story.

Puccini, it is said, succeeded in creating “great griefs in small souls”. That may be so but this Butterfly went a long way in converting this once dyed-in-the wool folk lover to opera.

Opera Australia’s Madama Butterfly plays at the Arts Centre until May 30.

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