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14 January, 2011

Madama Butterfly. Sydney Opera House. Friday 7th January

Madama Butterfly. Sydney Opera House. 7.30pm Friday 7th January 2011

Dear Readers,

This was an auspicious opening night repeating the same successful gala two years ago. An even higher standard was achieved with the welcomed return of American soprano Patricia Racette who we heard in Faust ten years ago. She sang and acted the part of Cio-cio-san superlatively, providing some her own interpretations. On two occasions to my ear this just went into a vocal limbo zone, showing perhaps that she made the right decision to omit the optional D flat at the end of Butterfly’s entrance. She received a justly deserved standing ovation from the premium seating area.

Tenor Mr La Spina sang the ‘cad’ role of Pinkerton with style and was even booed (slightly) at the end, as is traditional. It is a shame that he was not permitted to remain in his smart US Navy jacket for Act one as his imposing physique is not given to a bib-and-brace white pantaloon outfit.

As the American consul one-time tenor Barry Ryan showed that he has developed a substantial baritone voice which equalled and at times even dominated the tenor who he was counselling ‘diplomatically’ in Act 1. This moved to consoling and even condemning his countryman by the end of the opera.

The performance was billed to be conducted by Phillippe Auguin but for some unexplained reason Massimo Zanetti is on the podium until 28th Jan when Tom Woods takes over (and Ms Racette is replaced by Antoinette Halloran). The orchestra under Maestro Zanetti was excellent and received a huge ovation. We are fortunate also to have the chorus of the national company which is well schooled under chorus master Michael Black.

It was gratifying to see a full house and let’s hope this bodes well for the rest of this season in contrast to previous ones. I can recall very few full houses at the Sydney Opera House since Sutherland’s farewell 1990. The price of a good seat can nudge $300 now and the average seat is significantly more expensive than at the Met in New York. Cinema presentations may seem like competition but they are also a useful recruiting ground.

While this 'high-octane' production and would be ideal for any new opera goer, even Madama Butterfly can suffer from over-exposure. The company will have done 40 performances in barely two years! I don't think I need to see Madama Butterfly again for some time … and when I do I would prefer a more traditional production.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..