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03 January, 2009

Resplendent Madame Butterfly at Sydney Opera House.

Madame Butterfly - Sydney Opera House Tuesday 30th December 2008, 7.30pm.

Cio-cio-san - Cheryl Barker
Pinkerton - Julian Gavin
Sharpless - Barry Ryan
Suzuki - Catherine Carby
Cond. - Shao-Chia Lu

Dear Colleagues,

This performance of Butterfly was a triumph in every way. It was a worthy outing of Puccini’s masterpiece and an important psychological threshold for a company under stress from several angles, culminating in the sudden death of Maestro Richard Hickox last month in the UK.

Ms Barker is unrivalled in Australia today as Cio-cio-san. While she did this role in 1997 with charm and poise, the intervening years have not diminished her powers. Puccini’s heroine is one of the most difficult operatic characters, needing to look like a delicate Japanese teenager yet sing like a Walkurie!

Returned Australian Julian Gavin is every bit of the international star tenor and his Pinkerton is worthy indeed. The voice is well supported and secure up to a resplendent top. His dramatic presence is such that he was given some ‘in character’ boos at the end. Puccini and his librettists made sure that this role was the ultimate insult for American foreign policy … some things never change … but this IS opera, after all!

Barry Ryan looks and sounds like a competent comprimario singer which is just fine for an embassy delegate, especially one without an aria. The other brief but important roles were also well cast.

Not since the Sutherland days had I seen virtually every single seat occupied at the Sydney Opera House. Balcony boxes, rear rows and standing room were all occupied … and few if any tickets appeared to have been given away, a common practice last season. On the other hand, an ambitious season of 23 performances may be stretching the opera market beyond its boundaries. Also, the season opening, usually the 2nd or 3rd of January, had been advanced by 4 days, altering the plans of all Gala patrons who renewed. This strategy appears to have paid off so far. Those wishing to hear the vocal and dramatic chemistry between Julian Gavin and Ms Barker will have to be quick as they only sing together for another 5 performances with the season continuing for three full months (with cast changes).

The orchestra under Taiwanese Mr Lu played well but we seem to have to tolerate frequent blurts and off pitch notes from the brass section, over which Mr Lu probably has little control.

I personally find this production irritating and unsympathetic. It seems to be a slowed down version of Miss Saigon which has the same story line. Yet it is popular with the crowds and that is what matters these days.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..
Dr Andrew Byrne MB BS (Syd) FAChAM (RACP)
Dependency Medicine,
75 Redfern Street, Redfern,
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