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Madam Butterfly. Welsh National Opera.

This well-known Puccini Opera first written in 1903 came to Milton Keynes Theatre this week for a one night special performance.

The first thing to note about this performance by the Welsh National Opera is the wonderful full orchestra, including an impressive harp. It is such a joy to hear beautiful music played with a full orchestra.

Madam Butterfly is the story of Cio-Cio San or Madam Butterfly who is a 15 year ‘old maid’ who is matched to marry American Lieutenant Pinkerton. He jokes to the marriage broker how easy it is to get divorced in Japan. Simply by being absent for a length of time qualifies as a divorce. However, Madam Butterfly (well named because she is so fragile) is truly excited and in love. She cannot wait to be married and make her new husband happy. She even renounces her religion in favour of ‘the American Gods’.

The wedding commences and Pinkerton gets to meet her family including a drunk uncle and his new mother in law. Everyone is celebrating until it is found out that Butterfly has changed her religion. Then the whole wedding party rejects her and leaves, never to contact her again. Although slightly melancholy she still feels happy with her new husband and excited about her new life together with him.

The second act finds that Pinkerton has been gone three years and yet Butterfly is still optimistic that he will return and they can resume their love story. Money is running out and Suzuki (her devoted servant) is concerned he will not return. The American Consul, Sharpless, has received a letter from Pinkerton and on several occasions, tries to get her to listen to what it says. She is still hopeful and Butterfly refuses to listen to him and reveals her child to him which is obviously Pinkerton’s with his blonde hair and blue eyes.

A ship in the harbour means Butterfly knows Pinkerton has returned. She waits and waits all night for him to come. She finds out the truth that he has married an American woman and her heart is broken. She knows that he can provide a better home for her son so agrees to hand her son over as long as Pinkerton comes to pick him up himself. He arrives to find Butterfly has taken her own life.

This heart-breaking tale did not leave a dry eye in the house, the story was told so beautifully with stunning scenery (just how you would imagine Japan to be in your dreams). Puccini’s opera is emotional and moving, both with the words and music. The words for those who are not fluent in Italian are conveyed in English on a screen at the top of the stage. The words are truly beautiful and very flowery. But sung in Italian makes them even prettier.

Madam Butterfly is played by Karah Son and she is exceptional at both hitting the range of notes with ease and giving an emotional performance as both the happy new wife right through to the broken-hearted suicide mother. Her performance is outstanding. Her Lieutenant Pinkerton is played by Jonathan Burton and I found myself willing him to stay with her. He seemed a nice enough kind of fellow and rather likeable. Jonathan gives a wonderful performance of Pinkerton, so much so that at curtain call he was booed as if it was a pantomime. He smiled graciously and tapped his heart to the audience.

A deserved mention goes out to Rebecca Afonwy-Jones who plays Suzuki and David Kempster as Sharpless the American Consul who both give fantastic performances in their supporting roles.

Some of the outfits were questionable for the period. The American wife looked more like she was in the second world war than early 1900’s but this did not detract from the story telling.

This was a very emotional piece and it was performed to perfection.

To find out where you can catch this wonderful performance, go to:

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