lady butterfly ★★★★½
opera australia Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, until July 30
As Pinkerton praises his “Butterfly,” Cio-Cio-San asks, half jokingly, if it’s true that in the United States they pierce captured butterflies with a pin. Graeme Murphy’s production begins with this image, the captive creature (dancer Naomi Hibberd) suspended from blood-red braids, and brings her back at key points as a central motif.
Michael Scott-Mitchell’s set is a central platform, raised like a jagged promontory to resemble a display board: a house, an island, each defended from a hostile world with terrifyingly sharp blades. Jennifer Irwin’s wardrobe evokes the eastern and western sides of early 20th century colonialism, while shocking digital images (Sean Nieuwenhuis) swirl on moving screens to create an ever-changing backdrop, magnifying fears, intensifying fears. desires, exploding in color and darkening in despair.
Amidst the lavish display and powerful emotionalism, Murphy also explores the dark side of the story: Pinkerton soliciting teen sex in foreign cities while Goro, the marriage broker, indulges in seedy voyeurism.
As Cio-Cio-San, the butterfly, Sae-Kyung Rim delivers a triumphant performance with a voice of shimmering clarity through her many moods, from whimsy and mild satire to fiery power and tragedy. In the first act, this stands as a counterweight to the vulnerable coolness she creates as the teenage bride.
She sang enough, we’ll see of Act 2, with graceful lines of elegant simplicity, the climactic moments achieve power without disturbing the smoothness of the ending. As Pinkerton Diego Torre sang bravely in Act I, his classic “spinto” sound underpinned the key moments of the drama, before succumbing to illness in the interval, leaving young artist Thomas Strong to enter the final act with nothing but a natural and confident demeanor. Soft sound and adrenaline to guide you. It was an impressive display of show-must-go-on professionalism.
In the role of the faithful servant, far from foolish acquiescence, Sian Sharp’s Suzuki has a seasoned and knowing perspective on her mistress’s indignities. Sharp’s voice has developed a wonderful warmth and she phrases the lines with a natural sense of musical form.
As Consul Sharpless warning Pinkerton of his unlimited rights, Michael Honeyman’s delicately grainy voice and mellifluous melodic manner seem laced with the knowing sadness of experience. Her scenes with Sae Kyung Rim were the most poignant and dramatically nuanced of the evening, her polite politeness masking empathy, while her youthful directness seeks reassurance.