Opera Review: Madama Butterfly

Madama Butterfly started its life in New Zealand, went for a sabbatical in Seattle, and has landed in Adelaide with a stellar cast that brings to life Kate Cherry’s emotionally truthful and heart-rending production.


Presented by State Opera South Australia

Reviewed  14/11/2019

State Opera of South Australia always gives us work of a high standard but since Stuart Maunder has taken the helm the company has stepped up more than a notch in the standard of opera they offer.

Madama Butterfly started its life in New Zealand, went for a sabbatical in Seattle, and has landed in Adelaide with a stellar cast that brings to life Kate Cherry’s emotionally truthful and heart-rending production. There is nothing left to chance, not even the challenging screens that shift from side to side and up and down which Mr Maunder warned us to beware of in his enlightening and personable pre-show talk. The screens glide expertly from scene to scene changing the shape and dynamic of the space to marry seamlessly with the beautiful singing, and sumptuous orchestra, under the expert guidance of Tobias Ringborg.

Where to start, the orchestra I think – the orchestra which came to life under the guidance of Tobias Ringborg in a way I have not heard this group of talented musicians come together before. The nuance of the vision of Ringborg brought the orchestra to life in a journey that underpinned the action on the stage and carried, and married, with the orchestra to make Puccini magic. The romanticism and emotional turmoil with which Puccini imbued his work was evident from the moment Rinborg lifted his baton.

Goro and Pinkerton (Adam Goodburn and Angus Wood respectively) started the action off with a lightness of touch that instantly drew us into the world of Japan in the late 1800’s buying a wife for his term of duty ( a common occurrence did not prepare Pinkerton for the consequences of his actions). Goodburn’s Goro was spot on throughout the show and Wood’s Pinkerton was a journey through joy and pain that left us feeling sorry for him in spite of his thoughtless actions: excellent work.

The minor roles were so clearly drawn that they were a constant and indelible driving force that engaged the audience in the story. Kate Cherry’s great gift to the opera was that she has allowed it to develop as piece of dramatic theatre which gives greater value to the singing and music, and captivates the audience with the story. Really exciting and honest work from a great cast of actors who sing Opera. Douglas McNicol an unforgettable Sharpless, Pelham Andrews a strong and present Bonze, Jeremy Tatchell an empathetic and willing Prince Yamadori, Bethany Hill a strong, yet warm, Kate Pinkerton, Nate Bryant constantly aware of the focus needed for Sorrow.

The featured roles: Joshua Rowe as The Imperial Commissioner gave us a performance that ran the full emotional gamut from light-hearted at the opening, to fully immersed in the gravity and pain caused by Pinkerton’s thoughtlessness by the end of the piece. A performance that will not be easily erased from your memory.  Adam Goodburn’s Goro, planning, conniving, hiding, manipulating, you name it he found it in the role, great execution. Caitlin Cassidy’s Suzuki, a journey which grew and developed as the opera progressed and her emotional life tore at every heartstring in the house as she fought for the honour of the woman she served.

But the two major protagonists drove this exquisite work from the moment the lights went up on the stage until the devastating climax of this heartbreaking story.

Angus Wood’s Pinkerton revealed a tenor who has grown and embraced his talent. Wood’s journey was not only a joy to listen to but a revelation of how good an actor he has become. From comic to tragic an excellent performance that underpinned his place in the world of opera.

But, the performance of the night came from Mariana Hong as Cho-Cho-San. World class voices often leave a cast and chorus struggling to be noticed. Not so when Ms Hong is on the stage. She crafted her performance to spearhead some ensemble scenes that were a joy to watch. But when she had the stage to herself, she gave herself to us through the music in such a way that there was nothing else happening in the world. Her One Fine Day was a journey of emotion through feeling that lifted us into her hopes and dreams and her vigil, standing motionless as she waited for Pinkerton to run up the hill to us was full of hope and pain and she didn’t utter a sound as the orchestra fuelled her journey so clearly we were taken with her into hopelessness.

A piece of world class opera, full of world class Australian opera singers.

In closing, mention must be made of Christina Smith’s inventive and versatile set and incredible living backdrops that shifted and moved and the stars, the flower petals and the blood – brilliant, not to mention the costumes that were authentic, colourful and character perfect. Matt Scott’s lighting was clever, subtle and added a magical quality to the work. I could carry on but I fear I might run out of superlatives. This is an opera not to be missed.

Brava State Opera, a triumph.

The Production Team also consists of: Assistant Director – Clara Solly-Slade; Associate Choreographer – Anna Tsirigotis; and Repetiteur – Penelope Cashman

Reviewed by Adrian Barnes

Star rating out of 5: 5 BRILLIANT stars, World Class

Venue: Festival Theatre

Season: November 14th, 19th, 21st, 23rd at 730pm, and 16th at 1.00pm

Duration:  2hours 10 minutes including interval


Adult $180.00,

A Reserve Adult $150.00 Concession $135.00 Group 6+ (per ticket) $120.00

B Reserve $110.00 Concession $99.00 Groups* 6+ (per ticket) $88.00

C Reserve $70.00 

*A one-off service and handling fee of $8.95 applies per transaction; this is regardless of the number or value of items purchased. Concession + Under 30 pricing available.


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