There are few things left that elicit the kind of magic that a night at the opera does, but when the show announced is one of your personal favourites, and the local prince of dramatic couture Luke Azzopardi is the production designer, you know that you’re in for an unforgettable night that people will be talking about for months if not years after.
Telling the age-old story of an unrequited love worth dying for, the strength of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly has always lain in how hateable B.F. Pinkerton manages to come across, and the audience believing with their whole heart that Cio-Cio-San would indeed give up her life for her man – Teatru Aurora offered up both these in spades against a luscious backdrop.
As the lights dimmed and tenor Mikheil Sheshaberidze began to announce his intentions for his future bride boldly, I was sucked into the world Luke Azzopardi, Riccardo Buscarini, the stage director, Moritz Zavan Stoeckle, the lighting designer, and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra with the talented Colin Attard at the helm created and found myself being transported to another world where the lines between pain and pleasure became blurred and sublimated.
The entrance of Federica Vitali as Cio-Cio-San was nothing short of exquisite, especially when compared to Sheshaberidze’s bold and barely concealed tawdry lust for his future wife, whom he sees as nothing more than an exotic plaything designed to keep him occupied till he can marry a woman from his homeland. As she flitted across the stage delicately, the very picture of modesty and vulnerability, my heart broke a little for her, knowing what would befall her at Pinkerton’s cruel, clumsy hands. It’s no mean feat to play a naïve 15-year-old who is only just opening up to the world, but Vitali made the role her own in a way I have rarely experienced locally.
Equally moving was Maria Annunziata Vestri in Suzuki’s role. If Shakespeare and Puccini are to be believed, no tragedy is complete without a loving, loyal servant in the mix, and Vestri pulled off her part “to a T”. Her solo scenes with the ever hopeful, ever beautiful “Butterfly” in Act III brought me to tears. Here was a woman who had suffered with her mistress for years while she waited for her husband to come home and would continue to hurt long after her mistress made her fatal decision to fly no more.
As wondrous as the whole show was, with superbly memorable performances from even those who spent mere minutes on stage, nothing prepared me for the final tableau. Like something out of a half-remembered dream, as you rub the sleep from your eyes, I will never forget Cio-Cio-San, now no longer fragile and breakable but full of warrior-like triumph. Gone was the butterfly, crushed in Pinkerton’s hands, and instead, a goddess was born. Her death a picture of victory rather than sad, cowering defeat.
Visually stunning and unmistakeably haunting, the Teatru Aurora’s Madama Butterfly was a triumph in every sense of the word. I not only look forward to their next offering but also encourage everyone, whether opera buffs or not, to allow themselves to be seduced by the magicians who made the 2023 Madama Butterfly a show to end all shows.