Tuesday 25th September

Seeing an opera at the Sydney Opera House has to be pretty up there on the music to-do list, and the second night of Opera Australia’s Madame Butterfly on Tuesday attested to this. It seemed that the location and Puccini’s music were a winning combination for seasoned opera-goers and tourists alike.

In this production, the set was most certainly the star. Wooden floorboards surrounded by a shallow pool of water, with Japanese-screen walls looked on the outset to be a rather simple set-up. However, these elements interacted to give a greater meaning to many of the opera’s bigger themes. The screens opened and closed, allowing the house to be sometimes open and free, sometimes prison-like and closed off. Light seemed constantly to come from outside, as if the world beyond was a much brighter place. At the end of the first act and in Butterfly’s dream in the second, the back wall was lifted away completely to reveal an open sky of stars, in these moments the butterfly was temporarily released from her cocoon.

Similarly, the simple prop of a long stretch of silk was used to great effect in both these scenes. Butterfly herself proffers it, content to be Pinkerton’s property as long as she can be bound to him forever. It is similarly ironic that it is with this same piece of silk that she ties her knees in her final moments.

Hiromi Omura was impressive as Madame Butterfly – a role that is almost constantly in the spotlight. She handled herself with effortless geisha-like grace, although at moments it seemed that she was forcing a smile when more considered emotions were indicated by the text and music. Her voice carried well in the space, although at times seemed rather light compared with Dominica Matthew’s in the role of Suzuki. These two women carried the show without a doubt, blending beautifully in their duet as they covered the house with flowers in the second act. There cannot have been many dry eyes once Butterfly realised the hopelessness of her situation.

James Egglestone (Pinkerton), Graeme Macfarlane (Goro) and Michael Lewis (Sharpless) all performed with energy and musical conviciton, Macfarlane in particular lent his character a highly appropriate awkwardness. However, several of the minor characters (Malcolm Ede as Prince Yamadori and Nicole Car as Kate Pinkerton) were both one-dimensional and rather quiet, even at close quarters.