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Ellen Kent's Madama Butterfly Review | Opera House | Manchester

Elena Dee carries Ellen Kent’s pressure filled production of Madama Butterfly with a charged performance that shoulders every scene of Puccini’s iconic 1904 opera. 


Disowned by her family for rejecting her community and religion, Cio-Cio-San also known as Butterfly, envisions a better life as a devoted wife to an American naval officer through an arranged marriage.  


The Opera House audience is transported into the 15-year-old, Butterfly’s world as the geisha is swallowed by an elaborate set design and antique kimonos. The accessible opera leads with its visuals and the emotional draw of Puccini’s story resonates through Ellen Kent’s sprawling set that artfully recreates traditional Japanese architecture alongside delicate cherry blossoms as its picturesque backdrop.  


Fueled by the fantasy of a life with her American lover, Cio-Cio-San marries and moves in with Lieutenant Pinkerton (Georgi Meladze) and her maid Suzuki, played by the soulful Natalia Matveeva. Walking into their marital home with only a handful of objects, her unabashed husband knows little about his wife's sacrifices as Meladze convincingly showcases his disregard through condescending scenes and forceful performance.  


Needless to say, the honeymoon is short-lived lived and Pinkerton heads back to American leaving his Butterfly alone for three years to sing beautiful arias as she defiantly drifts around her house. The Humming Chorus, performed as Cio-Cio-San waits, poised and eager to welcome home her absent husband, is heightened by Ellen Kent’s cinematic production. The parade of cherry blossoms and the captivating water garden build her quiet moments of loneliness in paradise into an endless, haunting dream. The beauty of the staging also helps bring you into her doomed fantasy as Dee balances her innocence and self-assured performance in a heart-wrenching manner.  


The immersive live orchestration and the sharp lighting effects used throughout the production merge to symbolise dawn and the idea of a new beginning. However, as the beautifully bedecked set of blossoms are plucked around Cio-Cio-San, it is clear that her self-sacrifice will only take her so far.  


120 years after its release, Madama Butterfly stands as one of the most enduring and vibrant operas ever performed. Due to its powerful soundtrack, melodramatic take and atmospheric visuals the underlying stereotypes of the docile and subservient Asian woman that were reworked into its musical adaptation Miss Saigon, remains open to a larger conversation. The show's themes have all the trappings of American exceptionalism and a healthy dose of salt is needed to view this as a story based on real events as it has all the nuance of Diana the Musical.  


However, Ellen Kent’s production is built to impress and shock, allowing audiences to embrace Cio-Cio-San's journey, from her initial euphoria of falling in love to her devastating betrayal. Any newcomer to the opera will be compelled by Dee’s compassionate performance as she holds the audience’s attention alongside Puccini’s timeless score and that breathtaking score ensures that Madama Butterfly continues to stand the test of time. 

Tickets are available via the ATG link

This review was originally written for


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