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Review | Madama Butterfly | Manchester Opera House | 12/01/2024

As the final night in a trilogy of classic Operas, I was invited to review Ukrainian Opera & Ballet Theatre Kyiv’s production of Madama Butterfly at Manchester Opera House. As my first foray into the world of opera, I hope this review will give others in a similar position an insight.

Based on the 19th century short story by John Luther Long, Madama Butterfly is perhaps best known to the masses through Miss Saigon, a musical loosely based on the same story. First performed in 1904, it is still entertaining Opera fans globally some 120 years later.

Though performed entirely in Italian, English surtitles appear on a screen above the stage. Whilst clear to see it is also purposely high enough to not be distracting to those not requiring it. Naturally it did take a short while to get used to reading whilst still paying attention to those on stage. However once used to it, it became a brilliant tool in making it more accessible. With so many people enjoying subtitled shows on Netflix, there is no reason not to give Opera like this a go!

Even without the surtitles, the emotion conveyed by the talented performers not only vocally but physically is undeniable. From the upset of being outcast, to the devastation of the final scenes, Elena Dee shines as Cio-Cio San (Butterfly).  The story is easy to follow and has the audience captivated throughout, it really was beautifully done.

The cast sing powerfully without microphones, projecting their voices to all corners of the 1,920 capacity theatre. It is awe-inspiring to hear such beautiful vocal performances done like this. The talent both on stage and within the orchestra are world class, and represent an absolute bargain at the price point.

What sadly detracts from this is the arguably problematic themes found in the piece itself. Not only buying someone for physical and marital reasons, but that person being 15 years old is uncomfortable. Not only is this not questioned, but celebrated for a short time. As just one example of the themes that don’t feel right to a modern audience, some more minor alterations would have been welcomed.

A simple static set successfully transports the audience to Japan, although a more exciting stage design would have helped elevate the performance. What however brings the stage alive is the wonderful lighting design by Valeriui Cucarschi, denoting both mood and time exquisitely.

Featuring a largely Ukrainian ensemble, a beautiful moment occurred at the close of the show. Visibly moved, they sung their national anthem whilst proudly holding the Ukraine flag as a way of thanking the British for our support. This was mirrored by a mid-song standing ovation and applause, showing solidarity and was such a beautiful moment to be a part of.

Madama Butterfly is a wonderful introduction to Opera. Ellen Kent’s production proves that it can performed in a traditional way, whilst still being accessible to people new to the art form.

Note: My ticket was gifted. Irrespective of whether a show is gifted or bought, I always ensure that my reviews are fair and based on my honest opinion alone.


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