Madama Butterfly: Ellen Kent and The Ukrainian National Municipal Opera Kyiv

What an extraordinary evening. Madama Butterfly is always an emotive work, the story of a young girl, sexually preyed on by an alien, lied to and then abandoned, pregnant but still living with the hope that her predator loves her and will return. Sound familiar? Of course it does.

But first let me talk about the producer Ellen Kent. Ellen is probably responsible for turning more people into real opera lovers than anyone else. Certainly more than can be attributed to the plucking of a rousing (but irrelevant) aria to use as the anthem for an international sporting event, None will sleep and most probably Puccini might have been woken from the dead to spin in his grave.

Ellen has taken her excellent and often lavish but very traditional productions far and wide. Opera for all and at ticket prices that do not come close to the often scary prices of the major houses or companies. For that alone I would honour her work with five very well deserved stars.

Right now with the hideous and evil invasion of Ukraine by Russia, seeing this Ukranian company on stage and presenting a story of one man’s appalling invasion of a 15 year old girls innocence was both poignant and moving. The company, despite the troubles in their homeland, gave their all and did it with dignity. For this I would award the company five well deserved stars.

These productions are classic in style, no fancy twists or challenging re-invention, this is opera in a very traditional format. The company are strong with some exceptionally strong voices. Last night the two strongest voices came from Cio Cio San and Suzuki whose soaring duets were breathtakingly good. The setting is lavishly traditional, Ellen Kent cuts no corners with her stagings. It was an altogether very satisfying production and I would further add that the orchestra are by far the best and strongest that I have heard this company perform with over my experiences of seeing their work over the last 20 years.

Whe it comes down to the usual task of awarding stars, for this performance I was wavering between three and four – that was until the final curtain call when the company assembled on stage to take a bow. First the chorus, then the principals and finally Pinkerton followed by Cio Cio San. Clutched to her breast a bolt of blue and yellow cloth which with Pinkerton they unfurled to reveal a Ukranian flag. As one both orchestra and company launched into a deeply moving rendering of the Ukranian National Anthem, and as one we the audience rose to our feet, clapping and cheering, the most powerful standing ovation I have ever experienced. But despite the volume of our applause and cheering we could not drown out the power of that company’s emotional voices. It was at that moment I realised how many stars I had to give last night.

Andrew Kay

9 March

Theatre Royal Brighton

Rating: ★★★★★

One Response

  1. Pauline Stevens says:

    Just experienced the same in Bournemouth! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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