Madam Butterfly * * * * *
Welsh National Opera/Birmingham Hippodrome
Review by Norman Stinchcombe
Amanda Roocroft’s performance as Butterfly is a minor miracle – a wonderful assumption of the sort that operagoers dream of but seldom see.
The role is a vocally demanding one, encompassing the most delicate lyrical utterance to outraged passion and despair, with the singer’s voice pitted against Puccini’s large orchestra. A soprano with the vocal equipment to do that also needs to look convincing as a 15 year-old girl.
It’s a very tall order. We count ourselves lucky to hear a soprano who can sing the part well and doesn’t look too daft in a kimono. But Roocroft was totally believable, her body language, facial expressions, and the transition from ingenue to passionate woman all seemed natural – a consummate demonstration of the art which conceals art.
There are pitfalls in this part – Butterflies who are too simpering, who flutter too much, or who can’t resist going over the top and being the Diva. Roocroft never faltered. Such was her conviction in One Fine Day, so utterly at one with the music and the role, that we momentarily joined her in believing that her shallow seducer Lieutenant Pinkerton would return. In her death scene Roocroft was magnificent – only the flinty-hearted could remain unmoved.
But this jewel of a performance was given the perfect setting with fine support from singers, chorus and orchestra with conductor Julian Smith allowing us to hear many details of Puccini’s score.
Pinkerton is an ungrateful part, a man with no redeeming features, but Gwyn Hughes Jones’ performance was always a delight to the ear, finely sung with a genuine Italianate tone. And Claire Bradshaw made Suzuki much more than just a garrulous servant – a touching friend and second mother.