Park Opera hitting the right notes in Madam ButterflyBy Hugh Fort
October 26, 2012
Think opera is only for old, stuffy types? Think again.
Getbracknell is following Park Opera in the run-up to their next major show Madam Butterfly.
Over the next five months we’ll be bringing you backstage pictures, videos and cast interviews to help you delve into the world of opera and see what it’s really like.
CAROLINE COOK went along to a music rehearsal to find out about the vision for the show.Gathered around the piano with books in hand, the female chorus members of Madam Butterfly get ready to learn the first few lines.
As musical director Lindsay Bramley raises her hands in the air they take a deep breath and let out an operatic blast which I’m sure makes the roof shake a little.
They may only be a month into rehearsals, but the cast of Park Opera’s latest show are already sounding as though they’ve mastered some of Puccini’s famous notes.
“It’s a tall order for the chorus because Puccini is a very particular style,” says Lindsay, when she takes a pause from conducting.
“He writes in conversation so it’s not like doing Verdi where it’s got clearly defined moments. This is very much written as one long orchestral movement, so it means it needs a very different approach to make it work.
“The chorus have to be really confident and have to know what they’re doing.”
Like all operas, Madam Butterfly tells a story, but Puccini’s work is thought of as one of the most tragic and compelling operas ever written.
It follows 15-year-old Japanese girl Cio-Cio San, also known as the Butterfly, who is set to marry US naval officer Pinkerton.
Although Butterfly is excited to marry Pinkerton, for him it is a marriage of convenience, and he is set to leave her once he finds a ‘proper’ American wife.
Three years after their wedding, Butterfly is waiting for Pinkerton to return from service but life has changed dramatically for both of them while he has been absent.
“Madam Butterfly is just such a horrible, tragic tale, thoughtlessly tragic as well,” says Park Opera chairman Graham McGregor-Smith.
“The point about it is that it’s not just boy meets girl, they fall in love and live happily ever after. It’s boy is wanting to meet girl and, in the meantime, ruins the life of someone else.”
Graham says Madam Butterfly is an ideal show for opera newcomers to experience as it is one of the most accessible operas.
“What Puccini is trying to do is relate to people in a real way,” explains Graham. “It just flows, and he is trying to make it as close to real life as possible but in song.”
Like all operas, Madam Butterfly is pulsing with raw emotion which is drawn out through Puccini’s music.
“There are a number of moments which will overwhelm you with emotion,” says Graham.
“When Pinkerton is waiting to marry Butterfly, he does a toast in Butterfly’s house while her friends and family are in another room. He says he hopes he will find a real wife, an American wife and it’s not just horrible, he’s just so thoughtless.”
While the conversational style of the opera makes it accessible for audiences, Lindsay says it is a challenge for the cast.
“There’s one bit where there’s a big conversation between the three main soloists, and the chorus are doing bits in the background, and they have to keep up with them,” she says.
“It’s a big challenge for everyone but the result, if it all goes perfectly, is fantastic.”
Although it is early days – the opera will be performed in February next year – the cast are already putting the first scenes together.
“We’ll be putting one of the sections on the floor for the first time next week,” says Lindsay excitedly as she begins to wave her arms dramatically and the chorus fire up again.
And, if the sound blaring out of the Recital Room at South Hill Park is anything to go by, the opera is certainly off to a flying start.