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Photo: PhotoWerk


Super soprano Karah Son tops a thoroughly moving new production of Puccini’s poignant tragedy hit Madame Butterfly, which is pure operatic pleasure in an intelligent, controlled modernization, full of strong emotions, beautiful stage pictures and captivating music.

Dutch director Floris Visser (41) takes a new approach to Butterfly that seems so obvious, you wonder why no one has taken this angle before.

Visser observes the story through the eyes of Pinkerton and Madame Butterfly’s now-grown son, who has famously been brought ‘home’ to America, resulting in his mother’s hara-kiri suicide – in an über-sentimental, chillingly tragic finale.

One of the most iconic scenes in opera history, leaving only hearts of stone untouched in Puccini’s lavish orchestration.

From the adult son’s point of view, the opera becomes a vile flashback that clearly exposes the selfish/imperialist abuse that the smug American naval officer Pinkerton inflicts on a young Japanese woman, Cio-Cio San.

The adult son is played mute by actor Stephan Offenbacher, who moves passively-aggressively around the set and action without taking an active part, but acts as a kind of truth witness, serving Pinkerton’s offence in thick slices. Look what you put my mum through!

The fact that the opera in this version is set in an exact replica of a hall in Tokyo’s National Museum frames the concept in a way that both adds original texture and allows for the restrained, yet authentic presence of the Japanese folklore that gives Butterfly its special, exotic impact.

It’s cleverly done and helps the staging steer clear of the bloated but spectacularly colorful Japanese cultural clichés that the woke zeitgeist of modern stage design has managed to problematize.

Either way, the set design by award-winning British set designer Gideon Davey is full of strong, aesthetic images loaded to the brim with symbolism.

Not least in the key scene before intermission, when a giant needle is lowered over the bridal bed as Pinkerton prepares to impale his Geishsa bride, who in the story is portrayed as a 14 year old, and is actually sold to the task by her disgraced family. Argh!

In the title role, Korean La Scala-trained Karah Son is a super cast with her sensitive portrayal of the Nagasaki girl who becomes a blind victim of her naive romantic fantasies.

Her beautifully controlled soprano has both silver tones and darker colors, bringing the audience to tears as she hits the top of Butterfly’s signature aria Un Bel dì Vedremo, singing optimistically to the maid Suzuki about her reunion with the departed beast Pinkerton. One day, you’ll see… 

Son is said to have sung the part more than 300 times before she stopped counting. Her performance on this opening Sunday in Copenhagen is simply outstanding.

As Pinkerton, the American, Munich-based tenor Evan Le Roy Johnson is cruising low with acute vocal problems at the premiere but is expected to return to full strength soon.

Both Hyona Kim (maid Suzuki) and Samuel Dale Johnson (Consul Sharpless) deliver fine performances both vocally and dramatically, squeezed from all sides in the tragedy’s intersection of guilt and shame.

Paolo Carignani conducts a Royal Danish Orchestra in top form. Kapel in top form and ensures a distinguished, musical experience that becomes almost meditative in the famous, ethereal humming choir, which floats out into the hall with florid beauty.

Director Floris Visser is known for his contemporary, innovative stagings of classical works. He has scored success on a number of major theatres such as in Germany and at the Zurich Opera House.

His interpretation of La Boheme at the 2022 Glyndebourne Festival thrilled audiences and critics alike, where his challenging, minimalist/monochrome production with a young, enthusiastic cast drew five-star reviews, even from normally conservative media.

As one of the most sought-after names of his generation with a talent for connecting with a contemporary audience, he’s definitely one to watch. Well done to Opera Director Linton for introducing Visser to Danish opera fans.

Visser’s new production of Mozart’s ‘resurrected’ Idomeneo is premiering in Cologne these days and might be worth a trip, but that’s another story.

Here and now, there are five stars from GOT TO SEE THIS  to this Graz Opera import Madame Butterfly, which is pure operatic performance for a wide audience.