Madama Butterfly

Perth Theatre

Opera Bohemia’s compact, punchy Madama Butterfly may never have looked and sounded as good as it does on the stage of Perth Theatre for the company’s debut at the 50th Perth Festival of the Arts.

Working with the earliest version of Puccini’s score and with a small chamber orchestra in the pit for the first time, John Wilkie’s production may be nearly a decade old, but the clean symmetry of Magnus Popplewell’s set, the simple use of shadow-work on its screens, and the clarity of the story-telling, recognising the prescience of the work’s political message, are unimprovable.

Under the baton of Bohemia’s music director Alistair Digges, this revival’s great asset is that 11-piece ensemble, led by Feargus Hetherington, whose own solo contributions are a particular highlight.

On stage, the men in the cast supply some especially careful characterisation. Whitaker Mills is a troubled Sharpless, who sees disaster looming from early on but is not bold or interested enough to avert it. Seumas Begg gives much more subtle shape to Goro, the estate agent/pimp who makes the fatal introduction, than is often seen. There is a moral equivalence in the way both back off rather than become involved which casts the US Consul in an especially bad light here.

This is a modern dress production, with the nice touch of having Butterfly adopt contemporary American teen clothes in the “American home” she is keeping for her absent naval officer husband at the start of Act Two. Such detail does a lot of work in showing how little colonial geo-politics have altered since Puccini’s librettists were writing at the start of the last century.

Thomas Kinch gives a bluff, macho Pinkerton of slow emotional intelligence, so his tendency to over-sing the role early on could be said to match that interpretation, although his big tenor voice really comes into its own later. Like Louise Collett’s Suzuki, Catriona Clark’s Cio-Cio San is a link with earlier stagings, assured and at home in the coloratura of the role.

There is strong vocal casting in the smaller roles too, with Stephanie Stanway as Kate Pinkerton and Fiona Mackenzie taking the role of The Registrar, while special mention must be made of the (very) young Robert Nairne-Clark, who absolutely nails his extended presence on stage as Sorrow, the fought-over issue of the relationship. There is a further performance this evening.

Keith Bruce

Picture: Catriona Clark