Last night I went to the Opera for the very first time to see the superb Opera North’s Madame Butterfly.
I was quite apprehensive beforehand. What happens if I can’t follow it, I don’t like it, that it is just not my thing. The idea of sitting through an unenjoyable performance for two and half hours on the hottest night in September in living memory was, I will be honest, filling me with dread. Still a couple of sharpeners later and the half time gin and tonic booked in, I was ready for the night’s entertainment.
All those fears all proved groundless and just melted away in the very first minutes of the performance. It was utterly spell-binding.
At first it was just so novel watching people sing continuously without speaking. I found it so fascinating watching effectively a play and understanding the movement and gestures of the actors whilst they sang to tell the story.
After about 5 minutes I realised there were screens at either side of stage. I did know the basic outline of the plot to Madame Butterfly but the screens with the English translation helped me to understand the nuances. The language was so poetic too. The first description Pinkerton has of his Japanese bride is ” Fair as a garland of fragrant flowers. Brighter than a star in the heavens.”
The singing of course was out of this world. As this was my first opera I have nothing to compare it too but I can’t believe there can be many better singers than the Soprano who sang the part of Cio Cio San, or Madame Butterfly (Anne Sophie Duprels). Her voice was so pure and true, utterly exquisite and completely heart-breaking.
My friend was rather taken with the conductor. Sadly I couldn’t see him really until the curtain call, but it was so exciting to be a room listening to a live orchestra, I wish I got to do it much more often. There is really nothing else like hearing an orchestra playing Puccini’s beautiful, haunting, emotional music; actually hearing the music being produced and played for your pleasure. The music reminded me of a film score, giving power and weight to the drama. There were recurring themes and motifs, such as phrasing of the star-spangled banner for Pinkerton the American Sailor, defining and explaining characters in exactly the same way as they do in a film.
Emotional would be the word of the night. By the time the production got to the most famous aria from the opera I could feel the tears welling up. As the fate of Madame Butterfly was played out, as I watched the drama of this young woman’s life unfold and saw her pain and anguish, her most precious hopes and dreams being destroyed, it almost felt that the tragedy and the sorrow was mine too. I could feel the tears streaming down my face, they ran under my chin. I couldn’t stop them. My friend said he looked at me and it was Niagara Falls. I was trying to cry silently as not to spoil the moment for any other opera goer. I was very aware that I was in danger of making the most horrible racking sobbing noise. I was starting to find it hard to breathe. The trombones saved me. The sound of them right at that moment indicated the whole orchestra was coming to a powerful crescendo. Here was my chance, I breathed, snorted and blew my nose all under the cover of the wonderful brass section. Massive apologies to anyone there that heard or saw that it. It could not have been pretty.
Half way through Ed and I were planning a trip to Glyndebourne, so I think it is safe to say we both really enjoyed it. It has really made me want to see another opera, maybe some more Puccini or even some Mozart. I think Madame Butterfly might have set the bar extremely high for all other operas but I am looking forward to finding out.
And if after all of this you want to hear some of the opera yourself, here is the most famous aria “Un Bel di Vedremo” (One Fine Day).
And thank you Ed for the most amazing night. Loved that we were the youngest people in the audience of Madame Butterfly by about 30 years and then we ended in Mission and I was the oldest person in there by 20 years. I will never experience such a night of extremes ever again.