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Thursday, 13 January 2011

Madama Butterfly (or Bangkok Butterfly) at The King's Head Theatre

With some experience of London’s newest, littlest opera company, I knew not to expect the obvious when I rocked up to the press night of Madama Butterfly at the King's Head. The opera is often heralded as Puccini’s best, though it has never been my favourite. The narrative is less gripping and the music less alluring than Tosca, in my opinion anyway. The little theatre was full to the brim, we were warned when entering that we may have to squeeze up to make room for late audience members (the seats are benches so it’s easy to shuffle along). It was good to see the venue full, and definitely created a buzz for the first night.

OperaUpClose once again shows that this genre doesn’t have to be stuffy and grand, taking classic repertoire and giving it a drastic modern makeover. The libretto has been translated into a new, funnier version by Adam Spreadbury-Maher (designer) and Ben Cooper (producer). The concept is hard to swallow initially, Butterfly is a 15 year old ladyboy in Thailand, and arrives onstage with her entourage – suitably called Gaga, Whitney, Britney and Beyonce! After a short disco party with some rich Americans, she is married to the smarmy Pinkerton. Having wooed her he then leaves her for three years promising to come back but in fact returns only to show her his new bride. And as Butterfly poignantly puts it, ‘how can she compete with a real woman’. Completely bizarre and yet strangely affecting.

Margaret Cooper is glorious as Butterfly, she soars with ease though the sorrowful top notes and seems to relish the melodies (Puccini has given most of the good ones to her!) She has a quiet energy that comes through in her endearing characterisation of the lonely young girl. Pinkerton is less impressive and seems to struggle with some of the trickier passages, it sounded as if he was perhaps suffering from a bit of winter flu. Alison Dunne is absolutely wonderful as Butterfly’s loyal maid, Suzuki. She embraces the Thai culture so naturally I felt totally convinced that she was a Thai maid.

I always look forward to the little child at the end of this opera, though in this production the human is replaced by a rather terrifying puppet. With all the other surprises I guess I shouldn’t have been alarmed, but I found the whole idea rather distracting, especially as the puppet requires three actresses to move it, crowding the tiny stage.

All in all a daring production showcasing some vibrant young talent. With such reasonable prices there is no excuse not to check out The King’s Head Theatre.

Madama Butterfly continues until 23 January 2011.


  1. I have entered, please follow my blog? x

  2. Hey thanks for the comment.
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  3. this sounds really interesting. unfortunately i'm not really a fan of these productions :( great blog though!

    F. ( x

  4. aw that looks amazing...too bad i am not in london :(

  5. hello thanks for following and for the lovely comment! :)