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It really is that brown


The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (ideally you should go out and buy the paper) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday 27 June 2017.

Welsh National Opera has been doing some interesting things this year, but in the Second City it’s mostly been Puccini revivals. To say we’ve seen this all before is an understatement: Joachim Herz’s production of Madam Butterfly is nearly 40 years old, though to be fair Reinhart Zimmermann’s designs – with their hanging cherry blossom and little wood and paper house – have aged well. It’s only the tie-dye drapes and preponderance of the colour brown (it’s all very Habitat) that make you realise this production dates from 1978.

And of course each new cast, conductor and revival director (Sarah Crisp on this occasion) has the potential to breathe new life into it. The staging’s telling little details – Trouble’s toy lighthouse, the ugly locks that Pinkerton has fitted to the delicate-looking house in Act 2 – were matched by vivid, detailed performances: Rebecca Afonwy-Jones’s calm, compassionate Suzuki, and David Kempster, as a gruff, warm-toned Sharpless, wagging his finger in warning as he tries to make Pinkerton do the decent thing. As Pinkerton, Paul Charles Clarke was determinedly oafish. His hard-edged, blustery singing and the way he let the cowardice flash across his face won him a chorus of pantomime-baddie boos.

But of course there’s no Butterfly without Cio-Cio-San, and Linda Richardson had it all: unsinkable assurance shading into heart-breaking fragility and (at the end) chilling resolve, all conveyed in a voice that never stopped glowing – whether quiet and poised, or soaring above the orchestra at the climax of an Un Bel Di that really blazed. Andrew Greenwood conducted with red-blooded sweep, and the WNO Orchestra responded with a passion worthy of the only UK opera orchestra from which I’ve never heard a lacklustre performance.