Hiromi Omura is the star attraction in this return season of one of the world’s favourite operas.
This treasured production, one of the jewels in the crown of Opera Australia’s repertoire, is a fantasia of shimmering jewel tones contrasted with earth elements of wood, water and light. In 1997 Moffatt Oxenbould oversaw a Butterfly for the ages, one that has surely introduced and converted hundreds, if not thousands of fans to the art form. It brings an extra note of pleasure to see how perfectly the setting fits under the massive proscenium of the State Theatre – no compensatory black panels this time.
Familiar though the setting may be, new life surges through this season thanks to the superb casting of international soprano Hiromi Omura, who has sung the role of tragic heroine Cio Cio San around the globe. In a beautifully realised characterisation, the utterly luminous Omura imbues the role with pure childlike joy and wonder, which easily flips from sanity to madness and back again. Omura has the vocal power for the marathon role but it is her pianissimo that really impresses, with her softest notes carrying on barely a whisper of breath. Omura had the opening night audience utterly enthralled, and they rewarded her with an ovation that felt like an outpouring of love.
A significant factor in the success of the performance is the wonderful chemistry Omura shares with Sian Pendry, who plays Cio Cio San’s devoted companion Suzuki. Facial and body language between the pair suggests a serene affection and trust, and their singing in the “Flower Duet” is divine. Full marks to Pendry for a warm and engaging performance, set off perfectly by her rich mezzo soprano voice.
As B. F. Pinkerton, James Eggleston undertakes his most significant OA lead role to date. Bringing masculinity to a role that can often be played as a selfish, middle aged man, Eggleston’s tenor soars strongly over the orchestra and conveys the full range of emotions of the role. It is a unique performer who can allow an audience to feel comfortable enough to toss in a few good natured boos at curtain call such that it is clear to all that the derision is most certainly for the character portrayed.
The supporting singers reflect the incredible depth of the company, with luxury casting all round. Barry Ryan is an oily but ultimately conscientious Sharpless. Basso profundo Jud Arthur looks and sounds intimidating as The Bonze. Graeme McFarlane maintains an air of intriguing mystery as Goro. Fast rising baritone Samuel Dundas impresses as vain Prince Yamadori. Newly minted star soprano Nicole Car is a gracious, timidly elegant Kate Pinkerton.
Mention must be made of the adorably delightful six year old actor Hoang John Nguyen. What concentration, charm and appeal!
Another absolute highlight of the evening is the sumptuous rendition of Puccini’s classic score by Orchestra Victoria. With no slight intended on any of their latest engagements, it is hard to recall a more impressive recent performance by OV than that given under the masterful baton of Conductor Giovanni Reggioli. Woodwind and percussion flourishes provide the full colour of the score, with tremendous swelling brass enhancing the mood at key moments. Work of this calibre means that maestro Reggioli is welcome back at any time.
Diction is pristine all round, and chorus singing, prepared by Michael Black, is quite divine.
From newcomers to those who have seen and heard Madama Butterfly countless times, the performance of Omura is truly one to be cherished.
Photos: Jeff Busby
This review published on Theatre People 15 November 2012.