Madama Butterfly reaches new heights: an opera review by Victor Grynberg

June 30, 2019 by Victor Grynberg
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When Opera Australia premiered their new era digital sets last year with the production of AIDA not everybody was as enthusiastic as this critic.

Virgilio Marino as Goro, Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San, Alexander Hargreaves as the Commissioner, Andeka Gorrotxategi as Pinkerton, Michael Honeyman as Sharpless in Opera Australia’s 2019 production of Madama Butterfly at the Sydney Opera House. Photo credit: Prudence Upton

Surely this breathtaking new Graeme Murphy directed production will win even the sceptics over.

At every stage, the different effects and images portrayed on the 13 screens, each  7 metres high, just add and add to the story being told. Starting with the dramatic bondage scene with the classic Japanese red jute rope, this opera is a feast for the eyes.

But Opera is a lot more than visual and the premiere proved not only how magnificent Puccini’s score is, but the artistic strength of Opera Australia and their master strokes of casting.

Karah Son, the Korean diva supreme, sang the famous role of Cio-Cio-San, the young Japanese girl ( we won’t mention quite how young ) who marries a striking American naval lieutenant, has his son, but must wait and wait for his hoped-for return. Over a lifetime I’ve heard this role sung by many superb sopranos. I don’t think I’ve ever heard better. With strong vocal power, yet appearing to do so effortlessly, her rendition of the big hit “One Fine/Beautiful Day “ electrified the enthusiastic packed first-night audience. Her love duets with Pinkerton, the lieutenant, were sweet and passionate. Miss Son acted as perfectly as she sang, with the result that the audience was spellbound in her tragic final scene. Let’s hope OA brings her back. And soon

Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San in Opera Australia’s 2019 production of Madama Butterfly at the Sydney Opera House. Photo credit: Prudence Upton

This new production brings the 1860’s setting to a modern era, with mobile phones and remote- control units, but importantly hasn’t lost sight of the full nature of the cross-culture story. So looking every bit like an American Naval Lieutenant who could win any young girl’s heart was Spanish multi-prize winning tenor Andeka Gorrotxategi, who as his name implies hails from the Basque region. I remember his performance in the excellent Handa Sydney Harbour production of Madama Butterfly five years ago, a different retelling that also had great audience appeal. This time it’s far more personal and intimate. A beautifully controlled performance with singing that matched the standard set by Miss Son.

In a strong cast, I was extremely impressed by young OA veteran mezzo as Cio-Cio-San’s loyal Suzuki. Her genuine concern for Cio-Cio-San is critical to the dramatic course of the opera. She was superb.

Other notable contributors included baritone Michael Honeyman as the US Consul Sharpless, vainly trying to warn Cio-Cio-San of the impending personal disaster awaiting her, and local favourite Gennadi Dubinsky, as the angry uncle and priest Bonze.

Victor Grynberg

Australia has many treasured creative artists, but surely none have contributed more to dance, choreography and opera directing than the man I call Lord Murphy. Together with his life partner Janet Vernon, Graeme has brought tremendous talent to the directing of this opera and his imaginative interpretation of the story. Bravo to the couple.

Having seen top class companies producing operas in most of the major capitals I’ve often said that in production and musical terms OA stands up with the best of them. Every aspect of the production, the wonderful orchestra, the dancers, the very young actor who played the son.

The entire design and digital team led by Sean Nieuwenhuis and Michael Scott-Michael, used their technical prowess to perfection.

The audience was most appreciative to see the background team come on stage at the finale so that their huge contribution could be properly acknowledged.

This is a production not to be missed. Unforgettable

5 stars

Madama Butterfly

Score by  Giacomo Puccini

Joan Sutherland Theatre

Sydney Opera House

June 28 2019

Bookings and dates:


One Response to “Madama Butterfly reaches new heights: an opera review by Victor Grynberg”
  1. Yvette Ambrosi says:

    Went to see Madama Butterfly at the Opera House..Unfortunately i was quite disappointed as Pinkerton was played by Diego Torre total polar opposite to Andeka Gorro that all the reviews go on about..and Mariana Hong was Butterfly..No one was a standout..thankgod the music saved the night..set production was amazing..but i have no faith in Opera…never again

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