Theatre Review: Madam Butterfly

Raymond Gubbay’s production of MADAM BUTTERFLY at the Royal Albert Hall sets the senses alight as stunning staging compliments Puccini’s soaring score.

AN ORNATE Japanese flower garden with flooded pools is the exquisite setting for this production of Puccini’s classic opera.

The Royal Albert Hall is transformed for Raymond Gubbay’s in-the-round production, now in its fifth season, which first opened at the same venue in 1998 and has run and run since. The opera is set in turn of the century Japan where an American naval lieutenant, Pinkerton, marries a young and beautiful Japanese bride Cio-Cio San - or Madam Butterfly. But his intentions are questionable, and when Pinkerton leaves Japan his young bride is left hoping for his return, only for heartbreak and death to follow.

Mihoko Kinoshita sings the role of Madam Butterfly with a clear, crisp grace, evoking all the exotic Eastern promise of Japan. Her entrance flanked by a column of geisha, who are just a hair’s breath from the audience, is simply beautiful - the highlight of a production all about the visual.

Philip O’Brien is a solid Pinkerton, if perhaps lacking the charisma of a true heartbreaker. But the stand-out male voice of the production was Louis Otey as American Consul Sharpless, whose deep velvety tones rumbled with delicious chocolately roundness.

The rich visual spectacle of the staging more than equals Puccini’s soaring score and, like a Japanese scroll, they unroll together to reveal a thing of beauty.

* Showing at the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington Gore, SW7, until Sunday, March 13.