Thursday, 25 October 2012

Review: WA Opera - Madama Butterfly

Madam Butterlfy - Kelly Kaduce
Cio-Cio San - Kelly Kaduce
Pinkerton - Angus Wood
Sharpless - James Clayton
Suzuki - Fiona Campbell
Prince Yamadori - Andrew Foote
Kate Pinkerton - Bernadette Lucarnus
The Bonze - David Costello
Goro - Matthew Lester
Imperial Commissioner - Robert Hofmann
Official Registrar - Tim Schoenmakers
Sorrow - Cooper Sherman
Aunty - Mary-Attracta Connolly
Mother - Jacqueline Auty
Cousin - Harriet O’Shaunessy
Yakuside - Mark Alderson

West Australian Opera Chorus
West Australian Symphony Orchestra

Conductor - Joseph Colaneri

Director - Andrew Sinclair
Assistant Director - Margrete Helgeby
Designer - Kenneth Rowell AM
Design Associate - Victoria Rowell
Lighting Designer - Donn Byrnes

It’s been a successful year for the West Australian Opera and the high standards continue with the final offering for the year, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.  Once again the Company has assembled a first rate cast under the fine musical direction of Joseph Colaneri, in the now familiar production by Andrew Sinclair with designs by Kenneth Rowell.  

Vocally this was a very strong cast with the four principal singers proving to be an exceptionally strong ensemble.

Kelly Kaduce is an incredibly moving Cio-Cio San.  After a slightly heavy entrance she soon settled into her role and portrayed Butterfly’s girlishness and innocence without resorting to caricature.  Her movements were appropriately graceful and fluid in Act 1, and she is physically the most engaging Butterfly I have seen in memory.  Ieri Son Salita  was touching in it’s simplicity and in the love duet her voice matched perfectly with the Pinkerton of Angus Wood.  Kelly Kaduce is not afraid to hold on to notes above the stave and as guided by Maestro Colaneri made the most out of every dramatic situation.

Kelly Kaduce
Un Bel Di was a work of art and as beautifully phrased as one could hope for.  After some overdone histrionics in Yamadori’s scene we were treated to a heartbreaking Che tua Madre, in my mind one of the pivotal moments in the drama.  From here Kaduce defined Cio-Cio San’s descent into despair with great care for detail and the final scene was exquisite in it’s pain.  This is a remarkable portrayal of Puccini’s Geisha, one I will long remember.

In the hands of Angus Wood, Pinkerton was the handsome cad one one hopes for.  His voice has an beautiful Italianate timbre well suited to Puccini.  Dovunque al Mondo and Amore e Grillo were beautifully sincere and thrillingly sung and he has an engaging stage presence he uses to great effect here.  The love duet was the highlight one should expect, even if he did opt for the alternative tenor ending.  

Angus Wood is also a gifted actor and in his re-appearance in Act 3 his guilt and remorse were touching at Pinkerton’s realisation of the consequence of his selfish actions.  Here he delivered an assured Addio fiorito Asil injecting the perfect amount of morbidezza in his voice.  

It’s a difficult character to get right in some aspects, mostly because some of Puccini’s most stunning music for tenor has been written for a character with very few redeeming features.  Angus Wood delivered on all counts.  I always look forward to his performances, his tenor is of a rare breed in Australia.

Fiona Campbell used her lush mezzo to define a Suzuki rich in depth which I find rare for the role.  It is great to hear her music sung with such a strong delivery, her voice contrasting well with Kaduce in Act 2.  The Flower Duet was lovely and Campbell made beautiful use of her dark lower register.  She has a great future ahead of her.

As Sharpless the American Consul, James Clayton made much of what amounts mostly to a sympathetic foil for the brash youth of Pinkerton.  I am constantly impressed with his ability to completely inhabit a character, both physically and vocally.  His distaste of Pinkerton was an interesting characterisation, obvious pretty much right from the beginning and scathing in Act 3, coming almost to blows.  This contrasted beautifully with the way he interacted with Butterfly in Act 2 as well as later in Act 3 as he does his best to avert the impending tragedy.  All in all a sensitive, intelligent performance.

In the brief role of Kate Pinkerton, Bernadette Lucarnus gave an assured portrayal of a character that can be interpreted from two points of view, either that of a woman sympathetic to Butterfly’s situation or one of smug victory over what she must see as an exotic rival.  This production gave us the latter, which worked very well, heightening the sense of loss and desperation in the denouement.

Goro, the totally unlikeable marriage broker, was played with great relish by Matthew Lester.  Smaller roles were well performed with Tim Schoenmakers as the Official Registrar, Robert Hofmann as the Imperial Commissioner the stand-outs.  I found the Bonze of David Costello to be vocally adequate though his entrance wasn’t as imposing as it could have been.

Fiona Campbell, Cooper Sherman,
Kelly Kaduce, Matthew Lester

Of the minor characters a special mention must be made of Cooper Sherman’s Sorrow.  As the child of Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton, he displayed a stage presence beyond his years and did much to heighten the tragedy of Butterfly’s plight with the audience.  It was a beautiful to witness.

The WA Opera Chorus were up to their usual high standard, delivering one of the most incandescent Humming Chorus’ I have ever heard. It was breathtakingly beautiful, especially the final, exquisitely long-held final cadence.

Joseph Colaneri proves he is a natural Puccinian with this production.  His loving attention to detail is evident everywhere, tempos were natural and his phrasing in the big set pieces is impeccable.  This is a conductor that respects the wishes of the composer and doesn’t try to make his mark on the score by distorting the melodic line to sound original and suit his interpretation.  The West Australian Symphony Orchestra responded to him brilliantly and were as tight an ensemble as ever.  Their sound was rich and full, even in the relatively dry acoustic of His Majesty’s Theatre.

This is the fourth revival of this production in Western Australia and the wear and tear is starting to show.  While I find the production itself to be quite strong and true to Puccini’s intentions, especially Andrew Sinclair’s direction, the design by Kenneth Rowell fails to convince me.  His notes explain they were going for an impressionist view of Puccini’s masterpiece and cited Monet, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh as influences.  I can’t help but feel this was more inspired by Cezanne and his South-East Asian inspired art, the set feeling more tropical than Japanese.  

Costumes by Victoria Rowell suited the period perfectly.  The decision to dress Butterfly in Western dress makes perfect sense for Act 2, especially when you contrast her with the more traditional Suzuki, though Butterfly herself could have done with richer colours.  The wigs were beautiful, in particular Cio-Cio San’s in Act 1.
Angus Wood, Kelly Kaduce
The music of the love duet is full of mystery, passion and building eroticism but the lighting by Donn Byrnes was too generalised and did little to set the scene.  Things did improve in Act 2 and the lighting for the intermezzo that bridges Acts 2 and 3 suitably lovely.

After experiencing Kelly Kaduce''s Madama Butterfly, I cannot help but think that we here in Perth are witness to the growth of a remarkable international career.  Andrew Sinclair’s direction is powerfully wrought and emotionally compelling.  A very memorable production with superb performances by all concerned and a wonderful conclusion to a season of admirable artistic standards.

All photos taken by James Rogers, courtesy of WA Opera

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