Top performance: Rebecca Cooper as Madama Butterfly and Stephen Anthony Brown as Lieutenant B F Pinkerton Photo: Philip Baker, PGB Images
The Harlequin Theatre
Reviewed by Simon Ames
Giacomo Puccini told his friends that Madama Butterfly was his personal favourite of all his operas.
It is easy, perhaps, to understand why. The story embraces the high celebration of a marriage that ends with a tragic suicide on a roller coaster of expressive and inspirational music.
Surrey Opera's production cleverly created the drama of the heart-rending expectations of the abandoned geisha girl with a series of individual performances that could comfortably rank with those seen at the Royal Opera House.
Rebecca Cooper's delivery in the Butterfly role was exquisite, her acting ability matched by a vocal performance of stunning quality.
A demanding role with so much time on stage, Cooper captured the emotional tangles in a performance to remember. Memorable in particular was her interpretation of Un Bel Di, one of the most celebrated soprano arias in which, despite the searing optimism of the music, it is evident that her situation is hopeless.
Stephen Anthony Brown's portrayal of the two-timing Lt Pinkerton USN was similarly of high calibre. The happy love duet with Butterfly Dolce Notte at the end of Act I was a masterful performance from both.
Tim Baldwin produced a commanding performance as Sharpless, the US Consul in Nagasaki. Rebecca Stockland was convincing as Butterfly's attentive maid, as was Paul Hancock in the role of The Bonze, her uncle.
One particular highlight was the moving and delicate Humming Chorus at the end of Act II. The singers are not on stage as the chorus reflects sounds of people from the distant harbour. It was beautifully delivered a great credit to all in the SO chorus.
There was strong evidence of James Hurley's emerging ability as a young artistic director in many of the scenarios. The set was simple and effective, well described by Hurley as "a reflection of the broken promises and dreams of the story's brief romance".
Jonathan Butcher's sympathetic musical direction was once again a key part of the company's collective achievement, helping to make it a memorable evening for a capacity audience and a production for which all associated with Surrey Opera should be justifiably proud.