Review: Madame Butterfly at the Birmingham Hippodrome

This is the second time I’ve seen Welsh National Opera’s Madame Butterfly and in this current production two things leap out. One is the universality of the tale, especially relevant now in our increasingly multi-cultural society and secondly, how modern, indeed totally up to date Puccini’s 1903 work is musically.

The Welsh National Opera's Madame Butterfly

The Welsh National Opera’s Madame Butterfly

With its powerful storyline this is the template for the modern musical, an art form that’s proliferated over the last century to become possibly the most successful and popular type of theatre current in the western world. And this Madame Butterfly shows exactly why, with its tragic cross-cultural tale that defies time, race and gender to become an iconic warning of global exploitation.

Lieutenant Pinkerton is an American officer stationed in Japan who virtually buys a fifteen year old girl to be his child bride. To marry him in a ceremony which has no legal status in his country she gives up her family, her religion and her traditions, and when he goes away she waits, playing the empty role as his American “wife”, even refusing a rich suitor from her own race out of loyalty and love.

By the time he returns, (One Fine Day) she is penniless and near starvation with only a faithful maid to comfort her. And when he does finally return it is with an American wife who’s come along to help him take away their child. The result is one of the great scenes in all theatrical history as she decides to die by her own hand rather than lose all she has lived for.

In the hands of WNO this masterpiece, worth seeing for the set and costumes alone, comes up fresh as a daisy, with more relevance than ever before in our own 24 hour multicultural world.

The marvellous orchestra is superb under the baton of maestro Andrew Greenwood, and overall its production values are exquisite, with Reinhart Zimmermann’s marvellous set, John Waterhouse’s’ infinitely varied lighting, and especially Eleonore Kleiber’s fantastic costumes, their colour palette of white and browns with a touch of red adding immeasurably to the subtle richness of this marvellous production.

WNO present a varied programme at the Hippodrome during the rest of the week.

For tickets phone the box office on 0844 338 5000 or visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com.

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