Madame Butterfly

I’ve been feeling quite fed up the last couple of months and looking through the Metro yesterday morning I discovered that Madam Butterfly was on at the Alexandra Theatre that very night. Great, something different from my usual routine, so on the spur of the moment I rang a friend who said she’d come with me, booked tickets for us and we were set for the evening.

It was the Ellen Kent production of Madam Butterfly with the Ukrainian National Opera that we went to see, and we got the £21 mid range tickets and were sat right up in the gods. But this was a good thing as it gave us a great overview of what was going on on stage as well as the fantastic scenery and settings. I’ve seen Madam Butterfly years ago with the opera sung in English, however, this was sung in the original Italian and I was surprised and pleased to see that it was subtitled. I know roughly the story, but it’s good to be able to understand the details of the plot and what the singers are actually on about. Subtitles were displayed right at the top of the stage on a board which looked like the sort of board you see at New St Station to give you the train times. I’ve only been twice to the opera (both times Madam Butterfly), and I don’t know if subtitling a performance like this is the done thing, but I think it’s a splendid idea which should encourage more people like me to come to the opera as they will understand what’s going on, though I can imagine some venues being too snotty to do it.

The previous version of Madam Butterfly that I’ve seen was an excellent production and sung in English (and a good translation as far as I could judge), however, the music and singing in last night’s performance moved me far more. My friend Maria thinks, and I tend to agree, that this is because the opera is meant to be sung in Italian, and when sung in English you’re hearing it in a language that it was not originally designed for, no matter how good the translation is. As the music and language are intertwined perhaps this is why I found the Italian version more engaging.

The role of Madam Butterfly was superbly performed by a young Korean soprano, Elena Dee, in her first professional role. I got the impression reading the review in the Metro that Ellen Kent, whose production it was, doesn’t like overweight opera singers and won’t employ them no matter how good their voices are. However, my friend Maria reckons that opera is one of the performing arts where looks, age and body shape don’t matter; only the voice matters. I tend to disagree when opera is a viewing spectacle and Elena Dee, being young and good looking, really looked the part of Madam Butterfly, played a wonderful tragic heroine and had the most gorgeous voice. The tenor, Andriy Perfilov, playing Lieutenant Pinkerton was excellent and being young, handsome and fit really suited for the role.

I’ve heard several versions of the famous aria at the beginning of the second act, and Elena Dee’s that we heard last night was absolutely gorgeous. However, I’m going to be really picky now and say that Maria and I agreed that her voice tended to lose its power in the lower registers – the best versions of Madam Butterfly that I’ve heard have a warmth and power and vibrancy in the lower notes which to me really packs an emotional punch, but she’s a young singer and certainly has a beautiful voice and I’m sure this will come in time.

There was tremendous applause for her at the end of the show and tremendous applause, as well as some boos and hisses, for Andriy Perfilov in his role as the cad Pinkerton.

The audience were the usual middle aged couples but also a surprising, to me, number of young people dressed up for the evening (well young women to be exact as I don’t think Madam Butterfly would normally attract groups of young men on a night out).

I’ve never been to the Alexandra Theatre before and the seats we were sat in were quite good as they were at the corner of the grand circle – not right at the top, but with a wall behind us so that we could lean forward without annoying anyone behind.

It was a wonderful evening and I’ll certainly go and see another Ellen Kent production if I get the chance.

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One Response to “Madame Butterfly”

  1. Madame Butterfly at Alexandra Theatre, UK « Andriy Perfilov's Blog Says:

    […] Review on AJMG’s Blog. “The tenor, Andriy Perfilov, playing Lieutenant Pinkerton was excellent and being young, handsome and fit really suited for the role.” […]

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