This innovative work, inspired by Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly”, uses a mix of drama, music, puppetry and Chinese and English language to deliver a strong and emotionally poignant evening. The setting of Shanghai in the 1930’s also supported this new interpretation.
The story of Butterfly always enthrals, whether in the well-known opera (which will be performed on the Harbour next year) or in the also well known and loved musical, Miss Saigon. Having said that, the line between opera and musical theatre is a thin one, and I would have described this new work as a chamber opera myself.
The music is a beautiful mix of English and Chinese theatre/opera traditions drawing on Kurt Weill, early 20th century jazz and old and modern Chinese theatre/opera music. There was also the use of what I suspect may be the Chinese equivalent of commedia dell’arte stock characters in the aunty and ‘marriage broker’.
I was not sure about the use of puppetry until the wedding night scene, when it was most incredibly effective in demonstrating the effective dismemberment of Butterfly’s soul.
This is a tightly woven work and draws the audience in intensely. In fact, I found the interval distracting and disruptive and would have preferred it delivered as a one-act production.
The star of the show would have to be Wang Zheng as Cho Cho, with her operatic credentials clearly on display not only in her beautiful singing but also her incredible stage presence, even when being the ‘voice’ of her puppet character in the flashback scenes.
I was also impressed with Du He as the aunty, whose beautiful and mellow voice had a few moments to shine when not in strong comic character. David Whitney as Sharpless was also memorable, playing the role of the lost ex-pat very effectively. Scott Irwin as Pinkerton was very believable. I must confess that I never see this plot in any form without being aware that in many parts of the world this situation is still occurring, which underlines the tragedy for me.
A special mention goes to the puppeteer who played the roles of Cho Cho’s child and the young Cho Cho. His capacity to efface himself, so that you saw and responded only to the puppet character and its story, was phenomenal!
I would recommend this show to all, but do sit at least three rows back so that you can read the surtitles.
The National Theatre of China and PlayKing’s production of the Sydney season of their award winning Chinese-Australian production Cho Cho, is playing six performances at The Concourse Theatre, Chatswood from September 24-28 and is then touring to Melbourne, playing the Arts Centre Melbourne from 2-6 October.