Review: Park Opera's Madam Butterfly at South Hill ParkBy Caroline Cook
February 14, 2013
Wednesday, February 13, to Saturday, February 16
South Hill Park, Bracknell
(01344) 484 123
Of all the performing arts opera probably has the biggest stigma.
Grey-haired audience members, upper-classes and lyrics in a foreign language - it's no wonder most people think opera 'isn't for them.'
But last night Park Opera's production of Madame Butterfly elegantly destroyed the stereotype and proved that opera really can be accessible for all.
One of the most famous operas, Madame Butterfly tells the tragic tale of Cio-Cio San, otherwise known as Butterfly, and her hopeless love for American navy Lietenant B F Pinkerton.
It is a plot which could have come straight out of a modern romantic film and Park Opera did a commendable job at telling, or rather singing, the tragic tale.
The opera has been translated from its Italian original into English which for the most part meant the story was easy to follow. But at times the power of hitting the high notes sacrificed the clarity of the lyrics, meaning elements of the story were lost.
Reading through the synopsis in the programme during the interval filled in the gaps, and would be a valuable tip for opera newcomers (probably best to do it at the beginning), but perhaps some playing needs to be done with projection, or use of microphones, to make sure words can be heard all the way through.
That said, the joy in opera comes from the music rather than the lyrics, and every note was spot on. Brimingham Conservatoire graduate Li-Li was sensational as Butterfly, floating from meek, obedient girl, to weeping, devastated wife.
Robert Lomax as Pinkerton was equally impressive, his voice both powerful and romantic, and mention has to go to Graham McGregor-Smith, who played a wonderful scene as US Consul Sharpless, torn between reading a letter to Butterfly, or saving her from its painful words.
The supporting cast made wonderful Geishas, shuffling in groups and giggling girlishly, and then becoming a shrieking tragic chorus.
With a stage bathed in soft lighting, littered with petals and framed by Japanese-style sliding doors, Park Opera has created it's own charming little Japanese oasis in the Wilde Theatre, emphasised by a stunning wardrobe of colourful silk kimonos.
Down in the shadows of the pit, without a kimono in sight, the orchestra played Puccini's notes with the delicacy and ferocity they demand, with musical director Lindsay Bramley leading the helm. She must have been exhausted by the end judging from her passionate conducting.
Her passion was equally measured by those on stage, and it is that drama and enthusiasm which made the production such a captivating tale, regardless of your opera experience.