Stanton Welch’s Madame Butterfly may not be the perfect full-length ballet, but the pas de deux that runs for a good chunk of the first act is one of the most perfect things I’ve seen – in the right hands (or should that be feet? or bodies?).
Butterfly: Rachel Rawlins/Madeleine Eastoe/Kirsty Martin/Miwako Kubota/Reiko Hombo/Madeleine Eastoe/Miwako Kubota/Kirsty Martin
Pinkerton: Robert Curran/Kevin Jackson/Rudy Hawkes/Ty King-Wall/Daniel Gaudiello/Kevin Jackson/Ty King-Wall/Rudy Hawkes
Suzuki: Leanne Stojmenov/Reiko Hombo/Natasha Kusen/Vivienne Wong/Leanne Stojmenov/Reiko Hombo/Vivienne Wong/Natasha Kusen
Sharpless: Adam Bull/Daniel Gaudiello/Andrew Killian/Ben Davis/Andrew Killian/Daniel Gaudiello/Ben Davis/Andrew Killian
Goro: Tzu-Chao Chou/Chengwu Guo/Yosvani Ramos/Tzu-Chao Chou/Brett Chynoweth/Chengwu Guo/Chengwu Guo/Yosvani Ramos
Kate: Lana Jones/Juliet Burnett/Laura Tong/Amy Harris/Lana Jones/Amber Scott/Amy Harris/Juliet Burnett
The first act sees marriage broker Goro introducing Pinkerton, accompanied by two friends and the American Consul Sharpless, to Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly). Despite being about to go through a marriage ceremony with a Japanese girl (purely in order to get her in to bed may I add), Pinkerton dreams of his American fiancée Kate, which just about demonstrates his level of maturity. The ceremony proceeds, the guests are disturbed by Butterfly’s uncle who is furious she is demeaning the family by “marrying” an American and “becoming” a Christian, but Pinkerton gets rid of him and sends everyone not already scared off away, whereupon he proceeds to seduce his “bride” in the most ravishing (and exhausting with all those lifts) pas de deux.
Act 2 opens with Butterfly’s faithful companion Suzuki realising she and Butterfly are just about destitute, can’t pay the wages any more, and trying to make Butterfly realise that Pinkerton’s never coming back. Butterfly still believes, though, and despite a new suitor introduced by Goro, holds out for the father of her son, named Sorrow. Sharpless brings a letter from Pinkerton but cannot bring himself to tell Butterfly and Suzuki that although Pinkerton’s coming back, he’s bringing his American wife Kate and wants to take his son away. Butterfly doesn’t see Sharpless’ hesitation, only that Pinkerton’s returning, and she makes Suzuki and Sorrow sit up all night waiting for the ship to come in. She dreams Pinkerton returns, that he will take her to America, but she doesn’t fit in, and he takes his son and abandons her (again). Waking, she sees Pinkerton leaving, because he can’t watch his wife take Sorrow away from Butterfly. Devastated, she allows the child to leave with Kate, then takes her father’s sword and kills herself.
Very rough synopsis, but gets the main points across.
Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson’s Act 1 pas de deux was the most beautiful, effortless, romantic thing I’ve seen in a long time. Rudy Hawkes partnering Kirsty Martin, though lovely, was a bit of a mismatch: Kirsty’s one of the most experienced principals at The Australian Ballet, and Rudy is still relatively young, although I’m excited to watch him develop, particularly as he’s one of the Ballet Dancer Award nominees this year. I have to add that having seen the first 4 shows in Melbourne, then the 2nd week in Sydney, time and experience had improved many things, not least of which was Rudy and Kirsty’s partnership. Despite having not performed for nearly a month, and being a bit wobbly in some lifts, Rudy was much more of a match my second time around. Rachel Rawlins continues to grow on me, and I always love watching Robert Curran partner anybody. Miwako Kubota, on début, was beautiful and tragic, and Ty King-Wall continues to grow – I enjoyed his Pinkerton much more than his Nutcracker Prince – but that’s kind of backhanded as Pinkerton’s not a very sympathetic part! And it’s not his acting that’s growing: I wish it would!
On revisiting the production in Sydney, I got a special surprise bonus cast: Reiko Hombo and Daniel Gaudiello, which I was very pleased to have the opportunity to see. Reiko, who I’ve previously seen mainly in light-hearted roles, apart from a Suzuki in Melbourne, I felt would be good in the first act and she was. I was somewhat dubious about her for the second act but was very pleasantly surprised: although a bit rough around the edges (short notice, first show), she was absolutely heartbreaking. At times, I forgot it was Daniel as Pinkerton and got completely swept up in the story.
Suzuki is the one who realises Pinkerton and Kate are going to take Sorrow away, and as danced and acted by Leanne Stojmenov was really moving. Vivienne Wong and Natasha Kusen were both convincing and danced beautifully, with Reiko Hombo less convincing, and I’m not sure why that was – she’s tiny and delightful every time I see her dance – actually that’s probably why! And after seeing her Butterfly I still thought the same of her Suzuki; she was however following Leanne, who was her Suzuki.
Sharpless is a part with some meat to it, and Adam Bull took full advantage. He was just great, and that’s not because the others weren’t. Daniel Gaudiello, Andrew Killian, and Ben Davis all brought their own touches to the part: Daniel’s was definitely older than the other three (although if you’re gonna have silver temples that definite, better silver your moustache as well, dear), Ben’s was elegant as hell (I do believe there were curled ends on his moustache), and Andrew’s was almost wistful.
Second (and third in Andrew’s case) time around all the men dancing Sharpless were more assured in their characters. Daniel’s was definitely 45-50, Ben’s still elegant but much more assured, and Andrew is now, at least in my mind, at least equal to Adam (but I didn’t get to see Adam a second time).
Goro gets some great leaps and show-offy bits, perfect for Tzu-Chao Chou, Chengwu Guo, and Yosvani Ramos – but the most convincing was Tzu-Chao. The grimaces! Chengwu is the most inexperienced of the three, but he fitted better into his very strong cast than did Yosvani, whose Goro felt a bit flat to me. Sydney didn’t change my opinion on Yosvani, but Chengwu was extremely good, and Brett Chynoweth’s debut was, again on short notice, actually very promising.
Kate is an unsympathetic part, she’s Pinkerton’s romantic ideal who suffers under a very harsh blonde wig that’s curled within an inch of its life, and she’s the one who finally removes Butterfly’s son. She’s obviously not thrilled by his insistence on adopting his half-Japanese child, but she’s by God going to make the best of it…and Pinkerton’s going to suffer for it. Laura Tong and Amy Harris made Kate likeable in Melbourne.
In Sydney, Amber Scott’s Kate was just so beautiful and so affected by what she and her husband were doing, and Lana Jones’ was much softer than on opening night in Melbourne.
Madeleine Eastoe does heartbreaking so very well, but I was in tears at every performance: the climax of Un bel dí started me off every time, then Butterfly’s dance with her new suitor being mirrored by a dream or memory-Pinkerton, then Suzuki realising Pinkerton and Kate are going to take the child, then Butterfly realising it, then Butterfly’s absolute despair and suicide…
Other things: the five year old boys playing Sorrow had a lot to remember in terms of timing and placement and did jolly well, Paul de Masson as Butterfly’s elderly suitor (don’t ham it up so much please Matthew Donnelly), the scene where Butterfly’s bridesmaids rise through swirling smoke and criss-cross stage rear (Dana Stephensen really did glide), Orchestra Victoria under the direction of Kenneth Young did a wonderful job, as did the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under both Ormsby Wilkins and Tom Woods, Pinkerton’s friends Ben Davis and Andrew Wright (or as I like to call them the Glamour Twins), Butterfly and Suzuki’s silhouette fan performance (but please remember the audience is not blind and Shadow Butterfly should be the same height and have the same hair length as Real Butterfly), the simply gorgeous costumes, Pinkerton’s friends Jarryd Madden and Brett Simon, marriage officials Jacob Sofer and Brett Chynoweth, the stunning opening behind the gauze…
On a more critical note, Julie da Costa was never entirely convincing as Butterfly’s mother, the Sorrow boys remembered their timing and placement but didn’t really act much (but hey they’re five year olds!), all the flish flash at the wedding scene was so much superfluity and not always very well done, the American girls’ scenes are terribly contrived and the costumes appalling (dance-length frocks sure, but so gaudy they seemed to have come from a completely different milieu than that intended, and the day frocks looked more like Gaiety Girls of the 1890s), and the mime in all cases needs clarification/refinement.