Opera Now gives Madama Butterfly Five Stars
Based in a barn near Farnham, Surrey, Bury court Opera operates on a smaller scale than many of its country house neighbours, but there is nothing skimpy about its stagings. Both the last two - Purcell's The Fairy Queen and Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress - have shown they can pull off a range of musical styles with equal flair. Now they have delivered a Madama Butterfly that upstages any London production I've yet encountered.
Bury Court here gets everything right, starting with an orchestra, the Southbank Sinfonia, whose youthful virtuosi have long proved capable of delivering a wide repertoire at memorably high standards. Their accomplished conductor, Simon Over, showed throughout his capacity to prise out of Puccini marked instrumental clarity - expressive and subtle woodwind, capable brass, and strings headed by a first-class leader (the solos in Butterfly are sparing but vital). The music sang, but it also spoke, almost matching the libretto's exquisite poetry.
The company's inspiring director, Julia Burbach, brought a rare control of intensity and precision. Her work with the principal duo, both Japanese (Mamie Matsuda and Ayaka Tanimoto) was mapped out meticulously. The range of expressions and moods from Matsuda's Cio-Cio San captured the animated personality of a young teenager, then the poignant tenderness of a teenage mother. Welsh singers Gareth Brynmor John and Elgan Llyr Thomas performed Sharpless and Pinkerton as if they had been singing the roles all their lives. Tenor, Christopher Diffey's Goro, shone vocally.
Star marks to designer Naomi Dawson, for a multilevel, subtly planted set that lent the whole evening atmosphere and credibility.
Roderic Dunnett www.operanow.co.uk