Monday 4 February 2013

PUCCINI'S MADAMA BUTTERFLY / Singapore Lyric Opera / Review

Singapore Lyric Opera
Esplanade Theatre
Friday (1 February 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 4 February 2013 with the title "Butterfly soars to new heights".

The Singapore Lyric Opera was on course to have staged four consecutive operas new to its repertoire for the first time, but it turned its back on the double bill of Puccini’s Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, and settled on the familiar favourite Madama Butterfly instead. It was a stroke of pragmatism and expediency, which transformed looming box-office disaster to full houses.

This was its third production of the best-loved tear-jerker, and the first without veteran soprano Nancy Yuen in the titular role. She had been spotted in the audience looking very relaxed, as her younger Japanese colleague Mako Nishimoto stole the show. It would seem that the part of Cio-Cio-San was tailor-made for her, the tragic Oriental who gave only love but reaped misfortune.

Nishimoto sang as she lived her character, fraught with tenderness, passion, anxieties and terminal despair. Her voice was sweetness itself, but was capable of tumultuous shifts as her mood traversed many shades of darkness. In the Second Act, her aria Un bel di (One Fine Day) was pure radiance captured in a bottle, and when girlish anticipation turned into the cold realisation of her partner’s treachery, these were etched on her face and ultimately her singing.

Butterfly’s tragedy was born from a clash of cultures and expectations. This was mirrored in Spanish tenor Israel Lozano’s Pinkerton, whose oblivious and callous posture was apparent from the outset. She was, after all, a plaything even if the shared chemistry in the First Act love duet seemed like the real thing. The fact that Lozano garnered not a few boos at the end was testament to his believability.
The supporting cast was excellent in all respects. Anna Koor (the brow-beaten Suzuki), John Antoniou (the sympathetic Consul Sharpless) and Lemuel dela Cruz (the slimy marriage broker Goro) added to the characterisation and interest of the story. The chorus scenes were lively and colourful, with director Andrew Sinclair’s attention to the minutiae of details being particularly delightful.

Did anyone notice Butterfly’s cousin (a bit part sung by young soprano Su Yiwen) and how jealous she got at the wedding ceremony? Even more significant is the non-singing role played by Andrei Rasmussen, as Butterfly’s son Sorrow (above), who acted most naturally and responded to her every gesture as an innocent and loving 3-year-old would.

The set design by Christopher Chua was kept deliberately simple, with sliding doors playing a pivotal part in separating public scenes from what is kept private. Deborah Png’s concept of lighting was stunning in its effectiveness; fiery red for the Bonze’s menacing intrusion (above) and the phases of a full moon for the musical entr’acte into the final scene.

This was one production where the SLO Orchestra conducted by Joshua Kangming Tan sounded close to faultless. When the orchestral playing complements the singing to the point that it becomes a seamless part of the action by not bringing undue attention to itself, it has done its job well. This may well be SLO’s finest production yet.

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly plays for two more shows, on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Be sure to catch it.

Photographs courtesy of Singapore Lyric Opera.

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