Madame Butterfly

Date 2nd July 2016
Society Bath Opera
Venue The Pound, Corsham
Type of Production Opera
Director Jane Clark
Musical Director Peter Blackwood
Choreographer -

Report

Author: Dee Way

Thank you so much for inviting me to attend your production of this wonderful opera at Corsham. ‘Madame Butterfly’ is a glimpse of the effects of the culture clash that results when a young American persists in marrying a Japanese geisha girl against all advice.  Her family disown and curse her at her marriage. Later, he goes home to marry an American bride. In fact, it seems odd to think the opera was written at the turn of the 20th Century, and yet is so modern in topic.

The staging of the production in this small and intimate theatre was remarkable. The acting area was well used with the staging adding an element of height variation, making the performance much more interesting. However, the staging did seem rather small, hindering the entrances and exits round the screens at times. Could there have been any way of increasing the staging area to ease this? 

The Direction by Jane Clark was very good. This touring version needed to be adaptable to the various spaces in which it was performed, and this was well staged with minimal but effective scenery. The characterisations of the small cast were well done, with good contrasts between them. The puppet of the child was really well handled and worked very well. The moves and acting were good throughout, although I did feel that the pauses between some sections could have been filled with a little more stage business.

The Set comprised three wood and paper screens on the staging and a small curved bridge on the floor. The paper screens worked very well, able to hide or reveal characters and actions behind them by changing the lighting. The bridge was also good, giving a sense of definition to the ‘house’ area and allowing the change of height to be used to advantage. It formed a lovely base for the yearning Madame Butterfly to sing from in Act 2.

The Costumes were very suitable, with the kimonos of the Japanese contrasting well with the Western dress of Pickering and the Consul and, later, Mrs Pickering’s tailored blue suit. The kimonos looked very good with their wide sleeves and embroidery.  Having all the Japanese friends and relations in orange looked really bright on stage, with Cho-Cho-San in a beautiful off-white kimono and orange sash. The wigs worked well, completing the Japanese appearance of much of the cast, although some of them looked like hats! However, the shoes could have been more authentic, as toed sandals or black soft shoes rather than flip-flops! Also, white stockings would have been better than the short white socks worn by some. However, the make up worked very well, just accentuating the eyes enough to give them an Oriental tilt.

The lighting and sound were very well set up and controlled. The variations in lighting on the screens was nicely subtle and varied, and well cued. The sound was good in not being intrusive, but supporting the action at all times. The Music – the piano score played by Peter Blackwood - was well played, with good variation in volume and speed, with great sensitivity for the action and emotions portrayed.  Just occasionally it seemed a little thin. The use of percussion at the climax was very effective. In fact, the simplicity of the music enabled the audience to hear the words of the libretto more easily than with an orchestra, and therefore we were better able to follow the story. The humming chorus at the start of Act 3 was unusual in being a recording – or off stage – but worked well and was well sung.

I liked the mix of ages on stage and their good characterisation as individuals. Indeed, it was the contrasts and variety of the characters that made this production so memorable and enjoyable, quite apart from the beautiful singing by Sophie Kirk-Harris.