Hye-Youn Lee Gives Moving Portrayal of Madama Butterfly

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Puccini,  Madama Butterfly: Soloists, Chorus of Madama Butterfly, Orchestra of Scottish Opera / Marco Guidarini (conductor).  Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 17.5.2014 (SRT)

Hye-Youn Lee as Cio-Cio San, Madama Butterfly, Scottish Opera, 2014. Credit KK Dundas.
Hye-Youn Lee as Cio-Cio San, Madama Butterfly, Scottish Opera, 2014. Credit KK Dundas.

Cio-Cio San – Hye-Youn Lee
Pinkerton – José Ferrero
Suzuki – Hanna Hipp
Sharpless – Marcin Bronikowski
Goro – Adrian Thompson

David McVicar (director)
Yannis Thavoris (designer)


David McVicar’s Madama Butterfly is one of Scottish Opera’ bankable productions.  It was premiered in 2000 (this is its second revival) and it looks good in a modest, minimalist sort of way.  There isn’t much on stage except the open plan house and the branch of a single cherry tree, but this puts the focus onto the characters whom McVicar directs with his characteristic skill.  Pinkerton’s cultural insensitivity, for example, is demonstrated by the way he offers money to the Imperial Commissioner instead of shaking his hand, while the encroaching westernisation of the costumes suggests how much Americanisation has taken hold of Japan at the time of the story.  However, the anti-Americanism of the final moments now seems somewhat crass, and it’s a big mistake to reveal the child at the start of Act 2: his first appearance is the biggest punch in the gut that Puccini can offer, and having him playing on stage beforehand can only dilute this.  The love duet is a real highlight, though, with its crescent moon, delicate lighting, retreating house and, especially, the silhouette of Butterfly putting on her bridal gown against the paper screen.  Beautiful.

It’s the cast that make this worth catching, and they are led by an excellent Butterfly in Hye-Youn Lee, making her Scottish Opera debut.  She sings the part beautifully and with seeming ease in her traversal of the tessitura, cresting the high notes and exuding confidence in the music.  She also acts the part very well indeed, all wide-eyed innocence and naivety in the first act, but maturing to become a tragic heroine by the second.  Her dismissal of Sharpless in the second act seems to take on a real tragic grandeur, dignifying and elevating what can sometimes pass for a minor moment, and she showed absolutely no sign of tiring by the time of the suicide.  Hers was a most moving portrayal of this extremely moving role, and isn’t one I’ll forget in a long time.
José Ferrero was a capable Pinkerton and, if his nasal tenor had to work hard to make some of the notes, then he got there in the end and sounded fine when he did so.  Hanna Hipp was a rich, throaty Suzuki, and Marcin Bronikowski made a dignified, sympathetic Sharpless.  Adrian Thompson was marvellously nasty as Goro, and the minor characters all sounded very good.  Some of Marco Guidarini’s tempo relations struck me as rather odd (the love duet was too fast, the Humming Chorus too slow) but the orchestral sound itself was very fine indeed, with a sense of luxury in the climaxes, despite the slightly dry acoustic of the Festival Theatre.

Madama Butterfly continues on tour to Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen and Belfast until August 2012.  For full details click here.   Booking is about to open for Scottish Opera 2014-15 season.  For full details click here.
Simon Thompson

Leave a Comment