Review: Madama Butterfly @ New Oxford Theatre
by Evie Bennett
Ellen Kent’s new production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly tells the story of the beautiful Japanese girl who falls in love with a visiting American navel lieutenant, ending in devastating results. Set on the Japanese coast, the clever set design showcased the beautiful opulence of a Japanese Garden complete with Buddha statues, paper houses, flowers, and even the faint trickle of water fountains. The result was exquisite. The lack of scenery changes could have made for a somewhat visually monotonous performance, but this was balanced with multiple costume changes throughout, adding vibrancy and interest. In particular, the group of Geisha’s at the beginning of the performance with their colourful intricately embroidered gowns and flamboyant hairstyles added a punch of excitement after the exchange between Mr Pinkerton and the Sol.
"Kent’s adaptation gives a beautiful flavour and magical energy to one of the world’s most popular operas."
The talent of the performers was stunning; their vocals were phenomenally impressive and their ability to capture the emotion and narrative when singing in a different language was captivating and admirable. My only qualm with the production was that the subtitles screen was placed at the top of the stage above the performers making it difficult to understand what was going on whilst also trying to watch the performance. If you are going to see Madama Butterfly I would suggest reading the synopsis thoroughly first so that the subtitles do not detract from the beauty of the performance.
Kent’s production included local children from schools and theatre groups in the surrounding towns of Oxford, which added a personal element to the performance. I can imagine how exciting it would be to get to perform on stage, and how informative it must be to expand their knowledge of musical theatre.
It is always so special to be able to see a full orchestra led by an enthusiastic conductor, so this was a real treat to be able to see a full orchestra complete with a very enthusiastic conductor in action. I appreciated the director’s decision to allow the orchestra to have their own moments where the focus was solely on them to allow their talents to shine when they are so often confined to being hidden in a performance.
The incorporation of shadow artistry using Madama Butterfly’s paper house to show time passing was an interesting and contemporary addition to the performance. It also allowed the performance to be viewed by a younger audience by partially concealing the more adult or tragic moments. This was a worthwhile decision, as so many operas are too filled with tragedy and murder that they are inappropriate for children.
Some operas can prove to be a somewhat acquired taste, but Kent’s adaptation gives a beautiful flavour and magical energy to one of the world’s most popular operas.