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Madama Butterfly - New Theatre Oxford

By Goya Verity

That Oxford Girl was given tickets to the New Theatre for a memorable Friday night: opera!

This Puccini passionate opera is centred around the marriage between an American naval Lieutenant, Pinkerton, and his marriage with a young Japanese girl, Cio-Cio San – Madama Butterfly. Their capacity for love is different and is the source of passion, progression, and destruction, much like Puccini’s other works Tosca and La Bohème. You can trust Puccini for passion.


The show was truly like seeing any London production, particularly since it was produced by the award-winning Ellen Kent, one of the top opera producers in the UK who focuses on bringing foreign opera and Eastern European troupes to the UK. This made the performance poignant and unique, for the cast was comprised on some of the members of the Ukrainian Opera and Ballet Theatre in Kyiv: Vitalii Liskovetskyi as Pinkerton, Natalia Mateeva as Susuki (Butterfly’s maid), and Olexandr Forkushak as Sharpless (United States consul at Nagasaki). It was the same standard of show as the West End without paying London prices or the faff of travel. The full theatre, which hustled and bussled with pre-show excitement, proved how in demand this performance was and the quality of the productions put on here at the New Theatre, Oxford.


Irrespective of one’s knowledge of opera, or Japan, the cast delicately and securely opened their world, inviting us the audience in to share with the emotions of Madama Butterfly and her story.


Kent’s production featured an exotic scene of blossom-laden cherry trees and water features with a bamboo house as the central stage set piece as the focal point of the action. The chorus and actors appear with exquisite kimonos of varying colours, including an antique wedding kimono from Japan: there is a conscious effort to render the context as authentically as possible.


The orchestra is always seamless and never get the attention they deserve after accompanying the whole show. Even for us non-musicians, a careful ear on the score reveals Puccini’s genius and musical curiosities, such as the motif of the American national anthem which was played on a variation or hinted in the chord progressions whenever Pinkerton was spoken of, or as a foreshadowing technique.


Madame Butterfly  is the perfect opera for a first-time goer: the simple, yet rich plot, alongside a full orchestra and visual aesthetic make it a very enjoyable production for all ages and first timers. The qualities of opera are sumptuous and melancholic in the case of Madame Butterfly: as my second time watching it, I cried more than the first time!


Additionally, these experiences are what encourages us to continue writing and develop a relationship with the blog and writing for prospective students. As an ambassador, writing for That Oxford Girl has given me opportunities to enjoy and engage with Oxford life in ways I wouldn’t have thought and making my time in Oxford more rounded – something that is so needed to balance the hectic work life of the Oxford degree.  


At the end, the cast sung the Ukrainian national anthem with accompanying flags to remind us of the conflict and sacrifice in Ukraine, perhaps, much like the grief and loss of Madama Butterfly that we had just witnessed.


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