MADAM BUTTERFLY, 3Star***, London, To March 18

Madam Butterfly
A new adaptation by Amanda Holden
3 Star***

King’s Head Theatre to March 18
115 Upper Street
London N1 1QN

Runs: 120 mins. 15 min interval

Box Office: 020 7226 8561

Review by: Ian Spiby. Perf seen 13 February 2017:

Not perfect, but another opera triumph for the King’s Head
I have noticed in recent years when seeing productions of Madam Butterfly that the directors always gloss over the uncomfortable fact that Butterfly is only 15, while Pinkerton is considerably older.

Not so with this production. Director Paul Higgins has tackled the issue head on. He updates the action to contemporary Japan and sets the action in one of Japan’s “Maid Cafes” where teenagers dressed as manga characters or schoolgirls entertain visitors (and frequently offer sexual services). So Act One was a distinctly uncomfortable experience, as a very sleazy Pinkerton, slugging back whisky out of a bottle, prepares to take Butterfly to bed. For the rest of the opera, we are in more familiar territory although made more poignant by knowing just what has gone before.

The undoubted star of the show was Becca Marriott as Butterfly who was utterly convincing in the role and sang every note as if her life depended on it. She was ably assisted by Sarah Denbee as Suzuki and Verity Drew Frith as Butterfly’s child. I was particularly impressed with Miss Frith who acted with an ability beyond her years.
The two men were less satisfactory. Samuel Pantcheff as Sharpless sang well enough but is a rather wooden actor and his tight-fitting modern suit and several-day growth of beard really did not help me to believe he was an American consul, even in 2017. The reverse was true of Matthew Kimble as Pinkerton. He captured the sleazy nature of Pinkerton very well indeed but quite simply, he was not up to the role vocally. Pinkerton is very difficult to sing and requires Heldentenor qualities in the voice. I found myself wincing whenever he opened his mouth, as note after note missed its mark.

The adaptation benefitted greatly by being in the hands of the very experienced Amanda Holden who provided an English translation that was very singable and made seamless cuts in the text to suit the smaller cast.

Puccini’s score does not lend itself so easily to piano and cello reduction as some of the other operas I have seen at the King’s Head. Nevertheless it was performed with considerable bravura by Panaretos Kyriatzidis and Alison Holford.

But on the whole a much more preferable version of Puccini’s classic than many others I have seen from far larger and wealthier companies.

Madam Butterfly
A new adaptation by Amanda Holden

Butterfly: Becca Marriott
Pinkerton: Matthew Kimble
Suzuki: Sarah Denbee
Sharpless: Samuel Pantcheff

Director: Paul Higgin
Set Designer: Luke W Robson
Costume Designer: Emily May Sions
Lighting Designer: Nic Farman
Musical Director and Pianist Panaretos Kysiatzidis
Cellist: Alison Holford

First London perf of Madame Butterfly at the King’s Head Theatre, Feb 8, 2017

2017-02-15 18:02:11

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