Sydney-based travel, film and music writer, www.jasminecrittenden.net
Puccini's tragic opera of love, desire and exploitation
Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San. Image credit: Prudence Upton.
Madama Butterfly, a 1904 opera by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, is a tragic story of love across continents and cultures. When American naval lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton moves to Nagasaki, Japan, he begins an affair with 15-year-old Cio-Cio-San ('Butterfly' in Japanese). Safe in the knowledge that, in Japan, divorces are easy to attain, he marries her – secretly planning to swap her for an American wife down the track. But, she, deeply in love, devotes herself entirely to the marriage, renouncing her religion and alienating herself from her family.
Virgilio Marino as Goro, Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San, Alexander Hargreaves as the Commissioner, Andeka Gorrotxategi as Pinkerton, Michael Honeyman as Sharpless. Image credit: Prudence Upton.
In this new production now showing at Sydney Opera House, Australian choreographer Graeme Murphy and creative associate Janet Vernon transport Madama Butterfly into a futuristic world. From the outset, he hints at the potential for objectification and exploitation in Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San's relationship – through red bondage ropes and exotic dancers. There's even a human butterfly, chained to the wall in a Christlike position. Opera Australia's monumental LED screens and double-revolving stage are used to powerful effect through the bold touches of designer Michael Scott-Mitchell, in league with lighting designer Damien Cooper and costume designer Jennifer Irwin. Think neon stripes suggestive of cages, reflected, in one scene, in the brilliant, black-and-white kimonos of the chorus, as well as shining blades that resemble samurai swords.
Andeka Gorrotxategi as Pinkerton and Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San. Image credit: Prudence Upton.
In the lead is Korean-born, Italian-trained soprano Karah Son, who brings a staggering dynamism to the role of Cio-Cio-San. She's as beguiling as the proud, optimistic teenager wooed by Pinkerton, as she is devastating as the woman he leaves behind. Spanish tenor Andeka Gorrotxategi brings an appropriate self-assurance to Pinkerton, capturing his gradual breakdown with subtlety – both musically and dramatically. Meanwhile, Australian soprano Sian Sharp charms as Suzuki, Cio-Cio-San's streetwise servant, and Australian-Italian tenor Virgilio Marino delivers Goro, the marriage broker, with an enthralling, fairytale-like villainy.
Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San and Sian Sharp as Suzuki. Image credit: Prudence Upton.
In the hands of Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon, Madama Butterfly is carried from the early 20th century into a high-tech, industrialised, dystopic future – through sharp design, bold choreography and dazzling digital effects. It's a refreshing, moving take on one of the world's favourite operas.
Gennadi Dubinsky as Bonze, Andeka Gorrotxategi as Pinkerton and Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San. Image credit: Prudence Upton.