Don Giovanni/Madame Butterfly, Welsh National Opera at Bristol Hippodrome

WHILE Janacek’s  Jenufa  and Puccini’s  Madame Butterfly, the companions to Mozart’s Don Giovanni on the Welsh National Opera’s spring tour, leave the impression that they are yet to reach their full potential, the blend of singers, musicians, and designers in Mozart’s magnificent opera seem as well blended as cordon bleu omelette.

Baritone Aaron O’Hare, suave and polished as the self-destructive womaniser Don Giovanni, Simon Bailey, clear diction and witty delivery as his servant Leporello, a physically imposing Commendatore from bass James Platt (no question that HE had the power to carry Don Giovanni off to hell) and Maria Monzo and Sarah Tynan, bringing just the right amount of love and distress to the roles of Donna Anna and Donna Elvira.

All of them appeared to be vocally comfortable in their roles and together they combine to bring out the characters and their reaction to one another as well dramatically as they do vocally. Thy all looked completely at home in the expertly designed 18th century set and costumes which suited the style of this revival of John Caird’s original ideally.

Conducting from the fortepiano, Tobias Ringborg was always in total command of Mozart’s score and the admirable WNO Orchestra, and at one with the singers. This production, which looks as good as it sounds, is one to savour.

Lindy Hume’s Madame Butterfly goes in the opposite direction to the Don Giovanni presentation. Out goes a traditional setting, replaced by a space-age revolving two-storied luxury flat of the future. With most of the costumes also favouring the pale coloured, white and pale pink dominate, and see-through set, any splash of colour immediately draws our attention to itself.

The blood that appears on the shower curtain when Butterfly commits suicide is therefore almost as shocking as the few spots of blood Alfred Hitchcock allowed to appear when murder was committed in the shower of Bates Motel in his film Psycho.

Realism, emphasising the harshness and cruelty of the situation that the innocent romantic Butterfly is placed in, is the order of the day. It certainly throws a different light on a story which traditionally tugs at the heart strings, but in doing so sometimes seems a little at odds with Puccini’s music. Only the beautiful off-stage singing of the Humming Chorus by the WNO chorus  is left completely intact, reminding you of the deep love which dominates Butterfly’s whole being.

It is perhaps not surprising that while well in command of the vocal sides of the roles, in such circumstances Alexcia Voulgaridou’s Butterfly and Leonard Caimi’s Pinkerton rarely evoked many romantic emotional sparks off of one another. When it came to emotion, the love and distress shown by Kezia Bienek’s Suzuki, as she watched her beloved mistress being torn apart by selfish people around her, was always plainly in sight. A nice bombastic self-important Goro also from Tom Randle.

Conductor James Southall was as fully emotionally absorbed in the production as any of those on stage, even to the extent that (very unusually for the splendid WNO Orchestra), for one or two brief, very brief, moments they behaved like a band in rock musical and overpowered the singers.

This is a production you may love or hate, but it certainly is not one you can ignore.


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