Opera is thought of as elitist entertainment by some. But in this century a UK entrepreneur turned Madama Butterfly into mass market, sold-out success at Albert Hall, filling the famed theatre during its long run that lasted several years.
Raymond Gubbay’s revolutionary Butterfly had one thing in common with Opera Siam’s forthcoming production on 11 – 12 July: it also starred Nancy Yuen, ASEAN’s reigning diva, in the title role. Nancy Yuen heads the lineup of top international stars, along with the five-time international award-winning Siam Sinfonietta, in Opera Siam’s production of one of the world’s most beloved music dramas, Madama Butterfly.
She plays the lead Madama Butterfly, from her sold-out performances at the Royal Albert Hall in London. to the English and Welsh National Opera, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong. This in addition to a classic 2007 performance in Bangkok. She is acknowledged as Southeast Asia’s leading diva and Butterfly is her signature role, performed more than a hundred times all over the world.
“A feisty little butterball!” — Daily Telegraph
“So rich, so adept, so heartfelt!” — Channel News Asia
“Her voice is flexible and she rose to the task with really impressive charisma” — BBC Homepage
As Pinkerton, the American naval officer who “buys” the young Asian girl from a marriage broker and proceeds to abandon her, Israel Lozano, the Spanish-American tenor who is the star protege of Placido Domingo, returns to Thailand (having first performed here in this same role in 2007.) Phillip Joll, Covent Garden star who previously appeared with Opera Siam as Wotan, Scarpia, and Iago, appears as the American consul Sharpless, and Emanuela Barazia, Italian mezzo-soprano, as Suzuki. Popular Australian bass Damian Whiteley plays the bonze, Thailand’s own Chaiporn Phuangmalee is the devious Goro.
Artistic Director Somtow Sucharitkul says of this production, “A Butterfly post #metoo is a delicate operation because while on the one hand this opera has always been viewed as romantic, lyrical, with all those fabulous melodies, yet at its heart there’s also this creepy white man exploiting a young Asian girl — an act to which people in Asia today are more sensitive, and certainly more condemnatory, than a
hundred years ago when this opera had its premiere. In 1904, audiences couldn’t take such a caddish antihero, and Puccini revised the opera to make a “kinder, gentler”.
Pinkerton, but today, even the gorgeous added aria “Addio fiorito asil” probably can’t redeem our anti-hero. The stream of irony that ran through Puccini’s first version of the opera is revealed to be still there, not toned down at all, to the audience of today.”
“The best way to show the irony is to play it straight. Make the opera as beautiful as possible, and the dark side will show itself,” Somtow added
He hopes that those coming to see and experience a romantic love story will see just that, and that others will also see the ambiguity and the deep moral questioning that Puccini also intended.
When Opera Siam staged Madama Butterfly eleven years ago with the same leading couple, The Nation said, “a truly exciting production … a treat for the eyes and ears courtesy of Maestro Somtow Sucharitkul.”
Madama Butterfly is one of the most influential of operas. The musical Miss Saigon is essentially a remake. The tale was retold in a gender-bending way in M. Butterfly. There have been countless movie spinoffs, including the Shirley MacLaine comedy My Geisha.
There’s a Thai drama, Sao Khrueh Fah, that was adapted from it. And in the 1960s, Dusdi Malakul recreated the libretto of the opera in Thai lyric poetry. A production of this Thai language play was presented in the 1960s and proved highly popular. Their Majesties the King and Queen attended. Interestingly, the artistic director’s mother, producer Thaithow Sucharitkul, performed the role of Butterfly in that play.
Opera Siam’s Madama Butterfly will be performed on 11 – 12 July at Thailand Cultural Center. The opera event of the 2018 season brings together all Bangkok’s favorite opera stars from around the world in an unforgettable performance of one of the most beloved classics, Madama Butterfly. To see a cast of this level in one of the world’s major house would cost many times Bangkok prices, but Somtow is determined to keep prices low enough so not to limit the experience to high society.