New Devon Opera’s Madam Butterfly – Well Worth Another Shameless Rave
July 29, 2012
United Kingdom Puccini, Madam Butterfly (2nd Opinion): Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of New Devon Opera, Paul Foster (conductor) The Northcott Theatre, Exeter 22.7.2012 and The Marquee, Ugbrooke Park 28.7.2012, Courtesy of Lord and Lady Clifford. Sung in English. (BK)
Cio-Cio San: Mariya Krywaniuk
Lt. Pinkerton: Pietro Picone
Sharpless: Wyn Pencarreg
Suzuki: Alison Duguid
Goro: Stuart Haycock
Prince Yamadori: Stuart Boother
The Bonze: Roderick Hunt
Kate Pinkerton: Adele Knox
Imperial Commissioner: Gareth Davies
Official Registrar: Adam Temple-Smith
Cio-Cio San’s Mother: Lindy Stephens
The Aunt: Jane Anderson-Brown
The Uncle Yakuside: Steve Brown
The Cousin: Denise Kehoe
Cookie: Stephen Grimshaw
Conductor and Director of Music: Paul Foster
Director: Martyn Harrison
Production Manager: Graham Wood
Set Design: Martyn Harrison and Graham Wood
Lighting Designer: Bob Reed
Martial Arts Director: Stuart Boother
Costumes: Tony Brett (The Costume Store, Essex) and Flame, Torbay
Wardrobe: Jeanette Nichols, Veronica Webb, Wendy Bushnell
Hair and Make-up: Nancy Hill, Joanna Hedden
Three years ago, almost to the day, I wrote up my first encounter with New Devon Opera – their 2009La Bohème – and said that the review was ‘a shameless rave.’ Like many other writers, I often work out exactly what I think by deliberately letting my mind free-wheel for a while to expose my true opinions. In this particular case I was initially slightly shocked to discover that I had said that this tiny – and geographically distinctly provincial – company which stages only one production a year, had <Quote> provided a redefinition of the much over-used tag, ‘world class opera.’ <Quote ends.> But the more I thought about this statement, the more certain I became that it was completely true and now, after having seen every subsequent NDO production since 2009, I am delighted to report that my original opinion is still accurate in every respect. I had said:
What the audience had from this mini-Garsington was a completely persuasive production that made them identify with the important elements in the drama, offered them more than decent interpretations of the music and allowed them to enjoy themselves thoroughly. But New Devon Opera’s real secret weapon is something much, much rarer. There’s an enduring sense of good nature emanating from everyone in this company and a perceptible meta-pleasure is gained from watching a team of people deriving their own rewards from giving pleasure to others, rather than simply seeking approval. Together, this team communicates a genuine humanity – both to its members and to the audience – in a most extraordinary way. That’s easily ‘world class’ enough for me.
This year however, because the company has been able to engage two sopranos to share the title role in their Madam Butterfly we have the luxury of two opinions about an NDO production. My colleague Philip Buttall was able to review the opening night in Plymouth on 17th July in which Susan Jiwey sang Butterfly leaving me to report the performances starring Canadian-born singer Mariya Kriwaniuk. PRB’s conclusion was that ‘Madam Butterfly must surely be the company’s best production so far’ and it turns out that I agree with him whole- heartedly.
Stuart Boother as Yamadori
Since nothing much actually happens in Madam Butterfly in terms of stage action, apart from minimal crowd scenes at the wedding and the Bonze’s denunciation of Butterfly’s conversion to Christianity, the challenge for the opera’s Director is to ensure that the important relationships between the characters are explored very carefully. Typically however Martyn Harrison also takes every opportunity to make his production as visually interesting as possible beginning with an amazingly athletic display of Japanese martial arts technigues performed by Stuart Boother as Prince Yamadori. Further fine touches are to have the relatives and visitors to Butterfly’s house, shower the ground with origami birds and small model buildings and to use a framed picture of Butterfly’s son to overcome the legal problems of finding the two children and chaperones needed to engage live actors for the role. Sets are of course kept simple and portable since the performance venues vary enormously in both size and facilities which means that the expertly handled lighting plot becomes more than usually significant when emphasising mood.
Relationships though are never neglected. Those between Pinkerton, Sharpless, Butterfly, Suzuki, and the marriage broker Goro especially, are all delineated with great finesse, so that the emotionaltruthfulness of the characters’ interactions is never less than convincing. Obviously enough, some singers are better actors than others in any cast, but here there is never a moment of doubt that anything less than the best possible portrayals from the entire cast are on display here. It’s anothertour de force presentationfrom the man who added a live pony and trap for Escamillo’s transport in last year’s Carmen.
Mariya Kriwaniuk ( Butterfly) and Alison Duguid (Suzuki)
Vocally, there is scarcely an uncertain moment. The highlight of the piece for me was the moving third act trio between Sharpless, Suzuki and Pinkerton which was sung to perfection and managed to convey the nature of the tragedy which was drawing towards its inevitable conclusion. Wyn Pencarreg’s Sharpless was not only beautifully acted but was faultlessly sung, conveying a sense that this man was genuinely moved by a situation in which he was helpless to effect any change for the better. The thankless role of Pinkerton – surely verismo’s most graceless anti-hero by a mile – was sung by Pietro Picone and while he sounded initially as if he might have been happier singing the role in his native Italian (although this might be simple projection on my part, since I am generally happier to hear opera sung in its original language) his voice is both powerful, accurate and a joy to hear. Here is a true Italian tenor who I would be more than happy to see in other roles.
Similarly, Suzuki, played by the vastly experienced mezzo Alison Duguid – who recently moved to live in the south-west – combined her customarily polished vocal and acting ability in a beautiful interpretation of her role while Stuart Haycock’s Goro showed an equally refined characterisation. Naturally enough, Mariya Krywaniuk as Butterfly / Cio-Cio San stole the show. Whilst a leading soprano’s appearance is not always important if her voice is good enough, in this case it was good to see a young singer who could convey all the vulnerability of a fifteen-year old trying to be as adult as she can, after being thrust into a truly alien situation. Mariya Krywaniuk’s voice is very delicate and pure and was at its absolute best in ‘One Fine Day / Un Bel Dì.’
Wyn Pencarreg (Sharpless) and Pietro Picone (Pinkerton)
Paul Foster’s excellent 21 piece orchestra, this year using Dr. Foster’s own highly skilful orchestral reduction of Puccini’s score, provided their habitually subtle, well-balanced and nuanced accompaniment to the singing. The off-stage Humming Chorus was particularly beautiful in this production – a real tribute to New Devon Opera’s pro-am mix of players and chorus.
This production will be the last one led by New Devon Opera’s Chairman, the apparently tireless Linda Hughes, who has held down the job for the past eight years. She will retire in October of this year and while every member of her good-natured company will certainly wish her well, she will also be very much missed. A very hard act to follow then? Absolutely: exactly like this Madam Butterfly in fact.
Bill Kenny Link to Seen and Heard http://www.seenandheard-international.com/2012/07/29/new-devon-operas-madam-butterfly-well-worth-another-shameless-rave/
All pictures © New Devon Opera / Graham Wood
Madam Butterfly 2012, First Night Review:-
Devonians might not have much to sing about with their football clubs, but this superb production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly by New Devon Opera puts the county up there in the top league.
Martyn Harrison’s direction overcomes the Roland Levinsky Building’s limitations with a basic, yet totally adequate set, vivid costumes, and sufficient on-stage movement.
Given today’s difficulties in casting a three-year-old child, the photo-frame substitute provides a credible alternative.
But it’s the music, and ultimately the singing that can make or break this opera.
Susan Jiwey’s Cio-Cio San is a class act, soaring effortlessly to the high notes, and singing with heartfelt-emotion throughout.
Alison Duguid, as her maid, Suzuki, brought her fine, well-rounded voice to the part, and there was always such a clear dramatic and musical empathy between her and Butterfly.
Pietro Picone’s Pinkerton hit all the right spots, too, and the glorious delivery of the Act I Love Duet could surely not have left a dry eye in the house.
Wyn Pencarreg was an imposing, yet sensitive Sharpless, with another superb voice, finely complemented by Stuart Haycock’s necessarily fussy, yet equally well-sung Goro.
With strength in the minor roles, first-rate musical direction from Paul Foster and an excellent orchestra who rarely overpowered, despite there being no pit, Madam Butterfly must surely be the company’s best so far, and a terrific credit to all those involved.
PHILIP R BUTTALL -
Some press and audience feedback for NDO’s past productions
UGBROOKE (Friday/Saturday 22/23 July 2011)
“What a great evening……..and the marquee was transformative: so nice not to be cold! What a super cast. Many congratulations and love” (Katherine Laing)
“Superb Opera! Huge congratulations to you all for an exceptional performance. What a beautiful evening! (Audience member)
“..Many congratulations on the show. The event was tremendous on Saturday and a great tribute to your organisation and the support you’ve tirelessly built up for NDO over the years. Well done. Dad and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole evening, and as you suggested the horse was indeed a coup de theatre. Wonderful stuff! (Jo Loosemore – Radio Devon presenter)
Plymouth – Levinsky Theatre
It was a fantastic night. We’ve had several letters and emails from people saying how much they’d enjoyed the whole evening.. even our Vice Chancellor was on Twitter talking about the great evening she had! Good luck with the remaining shows. You must be enormously proud of what the company is achieving. Again – a fantastic evening. (Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Plymouth )
“If you weren’t able to see the opening night in Plymouth, then I do recommend you try to get along to either of the Ugbrooke performances! I had the pleasure of reviewing the performance, and, without giving too much away, can definitely say you’ll be sorry to have missed it!” (Music Critic of the Plymouth Evening Herald) 21/7/11 CLICK FOR FULL CRIT
New Devon Opera’s Country House Carmen
“With the arrival of the new performance marquee at Ugbrooke Park, comparisons between New Devon Opera and Garsington Opera become more difficult than ever to resist. ………………….
Expertly directed by Martyn Harrison, this Carmen is New Devon Opera’s most ambitious project yet simply because of the number of people involved in it…..
The singing is powerful, tuneful and yet refined. The marquee is a very revealing acoustic environment in which it is very easy to hear individual voices among the crowd and it was a genuine pleasure to find the chorus essentially note perfect at almost every turn. This is not easy music either but at no point did audience attention flag so far as I could tell. Similarly, the orchestra played with fine commitment under Paul Foster’s spirited direction among which Michelle Farley’s percussion playing undoubtedly added something of a special sparkle to Bizet’s take on Spanish rhythms.”
(Seen & Heard International 23/07/11) CLICK FOR FULL CRIT
La Traviata (2010)
“Excellent – superb performance” (Plymouth Herald 24/7/10)
“Feast for the senses…in its own, and very distinctive way, this production provided a redefinition of the much over-used tag ‘world class opera’…another definite winner” (Seen & Heard International 27/07/10)
La Bohème (2009)
“WORLD CLASS OPERA..”
“….I offer no apologies for this shameless rave and stand by my assertion that this NDO production offers most of the key ingredients for “world class opera”
“….NDO’s real secret weapon is something much, much rarer. There’s an enduring sense of good nature emanating from everyone in this company and a perceptible meta-pleasure is gained from watching a team of people deriving their own pleasure from giving pleasure to others, rather than simply seeking approval.
“…Together, this team communicates a genuine humanity – both to its members and to the audience – in a most extraordinary way. That’s easily ‘world class’ enough for me”
(Seen & Heard International’s July review of NDO’s 2009 production of Puccini’s “La Bohème”) CLICK TO SEE FULL CRIT
LETTER TO WESTERN MORNING NEWS
Wednesday 11 August 2008
“Small scale, large talent.
I ENJOY opera, which I normally see at least annually at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, where we recently saw the award-winning production by the Welsh National Opera of Eugene Onegin.
I last saw a “small scale” opera production at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter, about 20 years ago – and it was so appalling that I vowed never to see “small scale” opera again!
Time moves on, and as part of the Budleigh Salterton Festival we went to St Peter’s Church there and saw another “small scale” opera – Rigoletto, by the New Devon Opera Company.
As soon as the orchestra began the first bass of the overture it was immediately apparent that a tremendous evening lay ahead. The orchestra was only 18 strong, but the sound seemed like two or three times that size. With Dr Paul Foster conducting, these were no well-meaning amateurs but true professionals.
Then the soloists began with James Heath (tenor) as Il Duce, with a voice like velvet – I was mesmerised all evening by his singing. Rigoletto was James Hancock- a marvellous clear baritone – and Gilda was Debra Morley (soprano) who gave a performance up with the greats I have heard in that role – Maria Callas and June Anderson, the two “benchmarks” I have for Gilda. I could go on with all the other 10 soloists, as well as the chorus of 11.
This is only the fourth season for New Devon Opera, who have toured Devon with this production, which ended on July 31 at Cornwood.
Well done, New Devon Opera – you may be a “small scale” opera company, but one worthy of international standing. I would commend anyone who appreciates superb opera to see them when they next appear in Devon. We are now going to become Friends of New Devon Opera.
José Cura Opera Project 2008
• ..What a privilege to see how he (José Cura) encouraged and helped his students develop and gain confidence – all from the heart. For me he opened curtains and revealed how to really look at an opera – which I certainly shall reflect on for life
• ..The José Cura last night was just wonderful, so much talent and so much emotion in that fantastic venue
• …Many many thanks for the quite superb evening
• It is very rare that a young singer gets the chance to work with one of opera’s leading artists in a masterclass, leave alone working with him again the following year. Both happened to us in New Devon Opera’s José Cura Opera Project in 2007 and 2008, and I’m very thankful for this thrilling once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
After mainly working on the elements of singing, music and interpretation of an aria in 2007, Maestro Cura went on to working on selected scenes from the Italian and French repertoire in 2008. Not only is José Cura a marvellous singer, passionate actor, master conductor and a thoughtful stage director – he has proven once more to be a wonderful teacher of his art, covering all the different aspects of the craft of an opera singer. It was amazingly inspiring to learn how Maestro links music to words to storyline to voice to acting in every phrase, how he constantly looks behind the dusty curtains of cliche and so-called “tradition” and seeks for the truth of the musical and theatrical moment as it was intended by the author and composer.
It is not very easy put in words how much immensely I personally benefit from returning to the JCOP in 2008. This opportunity has changed my approach to the craft, and Cura’s influence will have a major effect on my operatic career, for sure.” Christian Schleicher – tenor – participant singer: www.christianschleicher.de
José Cura Opera Project 2007
• ….My feet have not touched the ground since I returned from Devon but I wanted to write and tell you that we had a wonderful two days. We would not have missed it for anything. (Two members of the audience from Wales who drove down and back each day for the Masterclass and Concert)
• ….Witnessing the expertise, hard work, warmth and total commitment of José Cura, one of the greatest singers in the world, giving so much of himself and working so tirelessly with these young singers. It was pure joy. A never-to-be forgotten experience. Thank you!
• Another company making a success in far-off places is NEW DEVON OPERA who have formed an ensemble with undoubted potential….under Martyn Harrison’s direction the company performed with passion, directness and urgency…..shiveringly directed, ‘Tosca’ drew real Puccinian stature from an exciting Cavaradossi of proven vocal intensity (Geraint Dodd) (OPERA NOW)
• …An absolute success, fantastic opera in a wonderful setting; we were all captivated. What a fantastic achievement to bring such great opera to Devon – many congratulations
• …All this morning we have had phone calls and people dropping in to say what a wonderful night they had and will you be back again..
• ….Whole thing a real joy; this is the first operatic performance we’ve seen. What a great introduction
• ….Not only was the opera outstanding, but the venue was magnificent…. my wife and I are completely ‘hooked’; I hope New Devon Opera goes from strength to strength.
The Barber of Seville (2006)
•Delightful production….inspired musical direction…. excellent orchestra…..superb Rosina, with stunning top notes…the future will be bright (for NDO): Music Critic, Western Morning News and Plymouth Evening Herald 17/7/06
•…I really enjoyed the opera and found myself completely absorbed by the quality, commitment and passion shown in the performance
• …Wonderful evening, absolutely marvellous
• …The whole performance was very very good”
The Magic Flute (2005)
•…Orchestra and singers were both superb
• …Excellent value for money
• ..Magical use of the natural settings
• …Excellent and well sung performance
• …Exceeded expectations and reminded us of Holland Park Opera