One of the joys of opera is watching a performance of an old classic which renews your love for the piece, heightens both the memory and senses while at the same time offering new discoveries. This cinema broadcast will do exactly that for you.

Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s direction and Christian Fenouillat’s design support the production with a degree of adequacy. Everything is stripped back to a sort of Japanese minimalism, but with Mathew Woodward’s cinema screen direction, our attention is focused on the human story. A roller coaster of emotions bursts from the screen and grabs your attention, supported by outstanding singing and conducting.

Ermonela Jaho in Royal Opera House's Madama ButterflyErmonela Jaho and Marcelo Puente in Royal Opera House’s Madama Butterfly. Photos © Bill Cooper

The Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho has already established herself as a fine Puccini interpreter. Her recent Covent Garden performance in Suor Angelica was a triumph, so expectations were high. She did not disappoint.

Despite its Japanese setting and Puccini’s use of Japanese folk songs, this is essentially an Italian opera. The costumes have an authentic look to them but camera close-ups cannot hide the European dominance of the cast. Jaho does not look 15 years old in Act One and her facial features are far from oriental. Yet she is magnificent. Suspend your disbelief, listen to her singing then everything begins to make sense. Jaho captures every nuance of the score with subtle vocal colouring and emotion-filled technical command of her voice. Twice the camera shows her weeping real tears, but vocal control is never lost.

Essentially this is a story of love, cultural arrogance, loyalty, cowardice and betrayal. Marcelo Puente as Pinkerton is a fine tenor who looks every inch the young American Naval officer cutting quite a dash in his uniform. There is real beauty in his singing. Pinkerton is obviously sowing his wild oats and, at times in Act One, is like an animal in heat. Butterfly’s innocence regarding his seductive power is very poignant and, if we take her age literally, there is almost an element of paedophilia in his exploitation. It is amazing that in this context Puccini’s music stills soars with emotion and has us hooked.

Ermonela Jaho as Cio-Cio San in Royal Opera House's Madama ButterflyErmonela Jaho as Cio-Cio San

There is excellent support from Scott Hendricks as Sharpless and Elizabeth Deshong as Suzuki. Both are highly competent singers and actors, never ciphers to the leading roles, who heighten the emotional intensity. Carlo Bosi is a suitably oily and unlikable marriage broker and Yuriy Yurchuk is very imposing as Prince Yamadori.

As with all Royal Opera House cinema broadcasts the pre-performance and interval presentations and interviews are finely crafted and add greatly to the overall experience. Particularly enjoyable are the insights to the rehearsal process and details of Puccini’s journey in arriving at the final version.

Apart from Jaho’s magnificent Butterfly, the real star of the evening is conductor Antonio Pappano. The Royal Opera House orchestra is lead with dynamic energy and every bit of the contrasting score, lush melodies and dark foreboding, seem effortlessly articulated, proving Puccini to be the genius we know him and Pappano one of his finest interpreters.

The Royal Opera House’s Madama Butterfly is showing at Palace Cinemas across Australia April 28 – May 3


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