Moffat Oxenbould’s cherished production of Madama Butterfly goes out in high style with sublime soprano Hiromi Omura giving an exquisitely calibrated tour de force performance.
Emanating a vibe that is the antithesis of the stereotypical opera diva, Omura simultaneously commands attention whilst also maintaining a demure and serene grace. Omura’s silken soprano pours forth in shimmering waves, conveying the spectrum of Butterfly’s modesty, anticipation, joy, fear and heartbreak. Such is Omura’s tireless stamina, at evening’s end she seems like she would be able to start at the beginning and sing it all over again.
Enhancing Omura’s rich vocal colour is her highly expressive countenance. The suspension of disbelief required to see Omura as a teenager is simple given the way she beams first with innocent radiance and then with the ecstasy of first love. Omura is particularly convincing in portraying Butterfly’s resolute mania as the deluded young woman steadfastly awaits the return of her American “husband.” Finally, the beaming face crumbles to ashen despair as the realization sinks in that Pinkerton is not returning to her.
This production has fit the company like a glove, which is due, in small part, to its collective three-year creation process. One of the few stagings to successfully expand to capaciously fill the State Theatre stage, the production has been a failsafe introduction to opera for newcomers as well as an ongoing regular audience favourite.
As pristine as when first seen 18 years ago, the invention and stunning beauty of Peter England and Russell Cohen’s designs remains rarely matched on the world opera stage. Floating candles, cascading petals and twinkling stars grace the elegant wood paneled floor, textured dark green walls and broad moat, the picture completed with the rainbow of billowing jewel-toned costumes.
Maestro Guillaume Tourniaire supports Omura’s superb vocals with a splendid performance from Orchestra Victoria. Such is the effortless ebb and flow of dynamics and rhythm, Puccini’s time-honoured score seems to take on the qualities of a soundscape, with waves of percussive bells and magical harp giving way to emphatic brass fanfares and melodic strings.
The significant experience of the lead and featured cast in their roles adds weight to the drama. The cast projects a strong sense of trust and shared instincts in their ensemble performances.
Tenor James Egglestone projects a sexual energy as the lustful Pinkerton, and gives the character’s selfish disregard for young Butterfly a subtle edge of regretful concern. His mid-range voice in fine form, Egglestone appeared to have some tightness and discomfort with high notes on opening night.
Sian Pendry has developed beautifully in the role of Butterfly’s devoted companion Suzuki, finding layers of gentle compassion, shared joy and crushing despair in the character’s journey. Pendry’s rich, full mezzo-soprano voice is a lovely complement to Omura’s silvery soprano, and duet work from the pair is a dream.
With sprightly movement and mockingly deferential body language, Graeme Macfarlane deftly realises many a comic touch in the role of self-serving marriage broker Goro, also singing the role with understated flair. As US Consul Sharpless, Michael Honeyman lives up to his surname, his rich, warm baritone having a charmingly seductive tone.
Sterling bass Jud Arthur gives an energetically commanding cameo as Butterfly’s outraged uncle, The Bonze. Baritone Samuel Dundas effectively captures the calm majesty of Butterfly’s spurned suitor, Prince Yamadori.
Hiromi Omura’s world class performance is simply not to be missed, and this production of Madama Butterfly is to be revered one last time.
Madama Butterfly plays selected dates at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 30 May 2015.
Photos: Jeff Busby