REVIEW: Melbourne Opera Presents MADAME BUTTERFLY

The Butterfly reborn

By Margaret Wieringa

It’s one of the greatest tragedies in opera – Madame Butterfly, a young Japanese woman who falls in love with and marries an America serviceman only to be abandoned and, ultimately, takes her own life.

This production by Melbourne Opera is a restaging of director Caroline Stacey‘s production that was nominated for seven Green Room Awards a decade ago. Of the two casts being used for this performance, I had the pleasure of seeing Antoinette Halloran as Madame Butterfly.

Madame Butterfly

The turmoil of the title role poured out lusciously not only in her singing, but through every part of her presence. While she was the emotional centre of the performance, her grief was reflected in other characters, most notably  her maid Suzuki (played with beautiful large physical gestures by Caroline Vercoe) and Sharpless, the US consul (in a contrastingly still but equally grief-stricken performance by Roger Howell),

As I came through the foyer, I was surprised at the variety of people in the audience. There were young and old, some families; some seemed very familiar to the theatre experience and others, like one gentleman I overheard “could not believe they would ever go to the opera!” To get such a wide variety of audience members to embrace the performance is a large challenge. Luckily, a slight hitch with part of the set could not have been better timed, as it was followed shortly by a line from Pinkerton (Jason Wasley) wondering if the Japanese style of house would fall apart. The audience laughed together, brought into a shared joke and brought into the house.

The Athenaeum is a venue built for such an intimate performance, as the sounds of the orchestra seem to fill the entire auditorium. Occasionally, the music overpowered the singing, however with such magnificent sounds, it was hard to be disappointed. The simple use of the large, white paper doors as the main set allowed the mood of each scene to be set using delicate colour washes and other lighting effects, and contrasted beautifully with the bright colours of the costumes and umbrellas of the female chorus as they celebrated the wedding day.

By the end of the performance, I felt emotionally wrung out and was happy to leave Madame Butterfly’s house, though I was glad I’d dropped by. And especially glad that I’d brought my tissues.

Athenaeum Theatre

188 Collins St, Melbourne

Friday March 21, 7:30pm; Saturday March 22, 2pm/7:30pm, Monday March 24, 6:30pm

Book on 9650 1500 or through Ticketek on 13 28 49

Tickets from $25-$98

Alexander Theatre – Monash University

Wellington Road, Clayton

Saturday May 3, 8pm

Book on 9905 1111 or

Tickets from $30-$75