Home » London Theatre Reviews » Ellen Kent: Madama Butterfly | Theatre Royal Brighton | Review

Ellen Kent: Madama Butterfly | Theatre Royal Brighton | Review

As well as Verdi’s La Traviata and Bizet’s Carmen, the Ukrainian State Opera and Ballet, Kyiv is also performing Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. First, unsuccessfully, staged at La Scala, Milan in 1904, it is based on a play by the American David Belasco, set in Nagasaki in 1900 and telling the story of the arranged marriage between US Navy Officer Lt Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton to the young (fifteen-years-old) Cio-Cio-San, who flits around silently like a butterfly. While he does not take the marriage seriously, she does, renouncing her religion while her family renounces her. Not unexpectedly, this tragic tale does not end happily!
Ellen Kent: Madama Butterfly
Ellen Kent’s production benefits from a striking set (design uncredited) depicting stage centre a typical Japanese house of the time surrounded by magnolia and other flowers. This has been effectively lit by Valeriui Cucarschi. In addition, costuming (again uncredited) is imaginative, traditional and lavish, from the Japanese ladies’ kimonos of the period to the smart suits of the Americans. Great attention has been paid to detail and the stage director Victor Donos should be given much credit for this.

Other strengths of this staging include the chorus (chorus mistress Kateryna Kondratenko-Savienkova), not much used in this particular opera, but having a true blended sound, especially in the Humming Chorus between Acts Two and Three. The orchestra as well, in spite of only having eleven string players, also accompanied skilfully, under the baton of Vasyl Vasylenko.

The role of Sharpless, the American Consul, was very well sung and acted by Georgi Meladze, as was that of Butterfly’s maid Suzuki (Irina Sproglis). Sharpless, especially, is a very unforgiving role, as he is on stage for much of the opera yet does not sing that much, but needs to concentrate and react to what is going on, especially in the latter part of the opera. (From experience, I know!)

Minor but important roles were also cast from strength, in particular the role of Goro, the professional matchmaker, (Yevhenii Vaskiv) whose crystal clear tenor and acting were impressive. Veteran singer Valeriu Cojocaru displayed a sense of style as The Bonze, the aged head of Cio-Cio-San’s family and her uncle. Vitale Cebotari as both The Commissioner and Prince Yamadori, a potential suitor for Butterfly later in the opera, was also very successful in role, as was Anastasia Blokha in the very small yet vital role of Pinkerton’s American wife.

However, the opera’s success in performance rests on the two main protagonists, Pinkerton and Butterfly. Georgi Meladze looked impressive in the role of a navy lieutenant, but unfortunately, the voice sounded tired and he was unable to reach the highest notes that Puccini called for. In timbre he often sounded more like a high baritone.

Elena Dee looked too mature for her role – in fact, there was laughter from the audience when she answered “fifteen” to the question “How old are you?“. I have known this to be changed in some productions. She looked magnificent but just seemed to be going ‘through the motions’ rather than truly being ‘ in role’. In addition, her soprano was very hard and unfocussed. We missed the light “young voice” that some singers are able to achieve in this part, which was a shame.

The company must be exhausted as they have been touring one and two-night stands all over the country since early January and return to Ukraine next week. I look forward to seeing them again in the future.

3 Star Review

Review by John Groves

One of the world’s most popular operas, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly tells the heart-breaking story of the beautiful young Japanese girl who falls in love with an American naval lieutenant – with dramatic results.

Sat 4 May 2024
Theatre Royal Brighton

Book Tickets for Shows at the Theatre Royal Brighton

Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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26 thoughts on “Ellen Kent: Madama Butterfly | Theatre Royal Brighton | Review”

  1. We went to the performance of Madam Butterfly at the Theatre Royal in Brighton On Saturday May 4. At the end of the interval the whole building was evacuated, but we were not told why. We were then told the performance was cancelled and we went home.

    1. Peta Wilkinson

      However it wasn’t cancelled. The evacuation was done very poorly. It lacked a controlled safe evacuation I felt. The usher was panicked. We waited outside the theatre, hundreds left. It resumed and the company did act 2/3 to about a hundred of us. Wierd hey!x

      1. That’s made me cross. We were told by members of the staff to go home and that the performance had been cancelled.
        I am now emailing the theatre for an explanation

  2. Elaine Taylor

    I was there that evening and the anxious crowd of evacuees were told that we would not be going back into the theatre, the performance was cancelled. This was believable as two ambulances were there and two fire engines arrived.
    I am very annoyed and disappointed about this when it did actually continue .
    I expect a refund from the theatre.

  3. Really !! I’m so cross . We waited outside for ages then got told to go home as rest of show cancelled !! What a fiasco it was !!!

  4. Teresa Denardo

    EVACUATION Of THEATRE ROYAL
    Ref Madame Butterfly Saturday 4th May Theatre Royal Brighton
    Royal circle D 18 & D19
    Tickets Booked by E Taylor
    After the 1st Act a person appeared in the corner of the stage and announced that everyone must evacuate
    the Theatre, and the performance was cancelled. It was appallingly obvious there were no procedures
    in place for evacuation and everyone just moved in mass to their nearest exit, not realising why.
    Having been told the performance was cancelled and waiting outside about 30 minutes
    with fire engines, ambulance and police arriving we felt it safer to leave and go home.

    It was regretfully a shambles and could have been a worse outcome.
    We expect a full refund for our tickets

  5. Saturday 4th May Theatre Royal Brighton Madame Butterfly performed to a full house – We were sat in the upper circle. During the interval Stewards were running around behind us which was very unsettling.
    People above us were asked to evacuate the building.
    An announcement was made from the stage asking everyone to urgently leave the building / she sounded panicky in her address to the audience.
    The whole evacuation process was not done well and we were all lucky that no one was hurt in the process.
    Outside the theatre people were just standing around feeling shocked by the evacuation process. An ambulance had been dispatched and we were told by the people sitting behind us that they had been told the performance had been cancelled.
    Making our way home fire engines were driving into the street which we thought must be a fire.
    Overall extremely poor communication from theatre staff – if the show did continue shame on them for ruining our evening

  6. I was at the performance of Madam Butterfly on Saturday 4th May, to celebrate my friends birthday. We were totally shocked and annoyed by the whole experience of rude staff, no pre-paid drinks awaiting us at the interval (although promised and paid for) or even any staff knowing where our drinks would possibly be etc etc, staff rushing around during the first half.
    This was BEFORE the complete and utter fiasco of them trying to handle an incident that we were finally evacuated because of.
    Our seats were in the second circle and when we eventually did get our drinks (after the return bell had been rung), we sat down and waited for the second half to begin.
    I saw a panicked security officer running behind us; then she stopped and told her walkie talkie that there was an incident on the ground floor. This should NOT have been overheard by any of the audience. However when we requested further information, we were abruptly told “we can’t divulge anything” by a very flustered member of staff.
    Approximately 5-10 minutes after overhearing the security officer, someone stood at one side of the stage and told us to evacuate.
    It was a complete shambles, with people panicking and no staff to point us in the right direction or to try and calmly reassure.
    On seeing fire engines and police outside the theatre we decided to get away, as nobody knew anything.
    The final straw was Sunday morning when an email arrived asking me ‘how my experience was at Madam Butterfly’ and if ‘I’d like to pre-order drinks’ !!! Well you just couldn’t write it; I need a refund.

  7. Moira O’Brien/Kate Costello

    We too were at the performance and were dismayed by the shambolic evacuation. No instructions or guidance given and no information as we waited outside. The word spread throughout the crowd that staff had informed people that the performance would not continue. After 30 minutes we felt the best thing to do was move away and let the emergency services deal with the incident. When we then read on line that the performance continued we were very cross. We had come from Berkshire so the cost was not cheap. We look forward to receiving a refund – though no Information as yet.

  8. Louise Channon

    I, along with two friends only saw the first half of the Madame Butterfly performance at the Theatre Royal, I’m so shocked to hear the show continued. There was a Critical Care Car outside the entrance, 2 ambulances and then 2 fire engines arrived. The evacuation was irresponsible, ushers were inside, along with a security guard were all standing still, lined up, doing and saying absolutely nothing whilst the crowds made their way out of the building. I would suggest that the staff had no emergency training whatsoever as it was that bad. Crowds huddled outside, whilst one usher, a young lady was shouting for everyone to go home, the show was cancelled, there were two fire engines on their way and we had to clear the area. We left so to hear the second half continued is absolutely shocking. The first half was painful to watch, the evacuation was shameful, thank goodness there wasn’t a fire, I dread to think how even more shambolic it could have been. Theatre Royal – you need to work on your emergency procedures and communication – the way a lady suddenly arrived on the stage in the interval and announced (in a quivering voice, no microphone) there’s an emergency and we all need to immediately evacuate the building) was so unprofessional. I shall be expecting a full refund, explanation and an apology!

  9. I hope the Theatre will be reading these comments. it was a shameful performance on their part. I was in the gallery two rows behind the emergency medical incident and saw everything that happened. I was shocked to see the lack of communication to the rest of the audience. I also thought that the staff pressed the panic button too quickly and there was a more considered way to deal with the issue if someone in charge took a more professional viewpoint. The announcement from the lady on the stage was ill conceived telling people to ‘get out quickly ‘. This wasn’t necessary at all . Like most people we were told it was cancelled and to go home. Now I wished we had stayed and it’s left me feeling somewhat cheated. I bet the CEO and the staff just brush this under the carpet and say we will learn from our mistakes..

  10. I can assure you they won’t brush this under the carpet, we all need to stick together on this one until we get a satisfactory resolution. The whole thing was a shambles, the announcement to evacuate as quickly as possible, was nothing short of dangerous and could have caused mass panic. Apart from the carnage out in the street littered with emergency vehicles the response of staff telling us to go home did not need confirmation from us as if they were considering continuing the show, it would have been far to late for us to start our journey home.
    The news that act 2/3 were continued smacks of someone in authority doing what was necessary to dodge refunds, even though they performed in front of a handful of customers.
    After a totally ruined evening, and £200 down I won’t be letting it rest.

  11. Totally endorse all comments. Instructed to leave theatre and go home and that the performance was cancelled. Expect refund

  12. We are on holiday in the UK from New Zealand, and the Ukraine opera troupe’s performance of Madame Butterfly at the Theatre Royale on 4 May was going to be a highlight of our stay in Brighton. We have lived and worked in eight countries (the US, China, Myanmar, Indonesia, etc), sometimes in difficult circumstances, and we can confidently say that the evacuation of the Theatre Royale after Act I was one of the most chaotic and ill-managed event of its kind we have ever experienced. A young woman burst on to the stage and gesticulated agitatedly, shouting to us to ‘leave the theatre as quickly as you can’, (a dubious instruction in an emergency, likely provoke panic – all credit to the audience for not panicking) without clearly explains why. Another young woman, a staffer in the Gallery, told us the performance was cancelled. A third told us to go home. At no point was a good reason was given for the evacuation. (A man sitting towards back the Gallery fell Ill during Act I, but that didn’t in any way justify it.) Now we have learned through this chain that the performance later resumed.
    What a catalogue of incompetence!

    I have written asking for a refund, using an ATG complaint form, though it is barely usable (it insists on having a UK billing postal code, not of much relevance to an overseas visitor – I had to invent one), but I am not optimistic about my chances of getting repaid. I have tried using an ATG services link connected to a Theatre Royale website (help.atgtickets.com), but it doesn’t work.

    Pity the poor Ukrainian singers, trying to perform through all that.

  13. “Following a medical incident in the audience during the interval of Madama Butterfly on Saturday 4 May, it became necessary to extend the interval and evacuate the auditorium. The performance was resumed after a 40 minute delay. We’re very grateful to the doctors and nurses who assisted the venue team in caring for the individual before the emergency services arrived. We’d like to thank all customers for their patience and understanding.” – A spokesperson for Theatre Royal Brighton

  14. Apologies: Our website had a technical problem today and we had to roll back to a previous live site. This resulted in the loss of some comments.

    I believe the following are the two lost.

    Me and my partner left after being instructed to, by the staff, the reason given they needed a clear path for the Emergency vehicles to gain access, it was a reasonable request to which we complied, with not much else in the way of an explanation, as we walked away from the theatre, the crowd that stayed were filming the unfolding emergency on their smartphones, which just felt wrong and we didn’t want to contribute to what must of been an awful experience for the person/people at the heart of this emergency by being a part of the gawking crowd, and now it feels like by doing the decent thing we’re being punished. ATG and the theatre needs to get their priorities straight.

    N.

    Me too. I’m going to go to the theatre to speak to the manager. I felt so sorry for the theatre company. There were a handful of us scattered through for act 2/3. I messaged theatre, and they just sent me a generic reply saying they’ve been in evacuation. I really felt the evacuation was dangerous and that the staff had absolutely zero idea what to do. If it had of been a terrorist attack or a fire people could’ve been hurt. I would’ve been very cross, had I paid a lot of money and made a special effort to come, but as it was, I had cheap seats and happened to hang around waiting outside before I had very little voice saying that we could head back in.

    Peta

  15. We were at this performance and like many of you have already said, we were told to go home as the performance had been cancelled. We went home, and the following day I emailed ATG tickets for any advice on a refund or exchange of show/tickets, and they replied stating that because the show was resumed around 40 minutes after the evacuation, that we weren’t entitled to anything. I responded to this email saying that we were *told* to leave and were *told* that the show was cancelled, and had we not been told this, we would have stayed. ATG tickets have not responded to my last email. Really frustrated and disappointed with how this was/is being handled.

  16. Our experience was the same as many others who have commented on here. While we were standing outside the theatre, a member of staff, instructed us, in a rather panicked way, to “clear the road for the fire engine to come through, you will get an email and a refund”. So we went home. The impression we had was that the theatre that night was being run by a group of very inexperienced young people – thank goodness, the emergency wasn’t anything even more serious, like a fire. I sent an email to ATG a few days ago but haven’t received the curtesy of a reply yet.

  17. Very shocked to receive this email back from Theatre Royal below, and stating with confidence that staff did not tell us the show was cancelled. I have asked them to read the comments on this review also. I still expect a full refund and have replied.

    ***

    Thank you for contacting Theatre Royal Brighton and for your comments about your experience during the performance of Madama Butterfly on Saturday 4th May.

    I believe you have already spoken to our contact centre staff, but we would like to also confirm with you directly the events that occurred during the performance. At approximately 20:55 there was a serious medical emergency involving a customer seated in the Gallery, of which our team of staff were called to deal with urgently.

    The emergency services were called, and they instructed our staff that to be able to do their job they would need the show to be stopped and the building emptied whilst they attended to the customer, to ensure the best possible care.

    At this point, the staff members were unsure of how long it would take and in turn, if the show would resume. However, all staff were briefed to not inform anyone that the show would not resume. Their priority was to deal with the customer needing medical attention and then to see if it was safe to continue. We thank you for your patience whilst our staff prioritised the customer in need of medical attention.

    The incident occurred at the interval, and this was extended until approximately 21:10 when the audience were told they needed to leave the auditorium, with the show resuming at approximately 21:35. Our staff did everything possible in a difficult situation to ensure that the incident was handled as sensitively and efficiently as possible.

    It is rare we have to take these measures, and don’t do it lightly. However, in that moment it is the duty of the team to prioritise life and that was the decision they had to take.

    We do appreciate that your experience has not been ideal and we can only apologise for the inconvenience caused by this unfortunate incident. The show was resumed in good faith and we issued no official cancellation, and therefore cannot claim a refund in these circumstances.

    We appreciate audience members may have told other patrons that the performance was cancelled, but that did not come from staff. Members of the team will be happy to assist and talk to you when necessary and although busy, the Duty Manager is in control of the scene and is the one that would update when they are able to and know more.

    Thank you again for your patience and understanding in the unfortunate events of Saturday, and we really hope to welcome you back to the Theatre Royal in the near future

  18. Echoing previous comments around being instructed by a member of staff to leave the area, saying the performance was cancelled and that we would be contacted about a refund.

    Would many hundreds of people have really left the performance and forfeited the cost of tickets, unless they had been told by staff the show was cancelled and they would be refunded? Many people dressed up and travelled to the performance, of course they would have waited if advised to do so by staff.

    It is insulting that the theatre is implying that we misremembered being told directly by staff that the show was cancelled.

    If the theatre is refusing to refund, how do we proceed?

  19. We were there too. Despite numerous messages / emails back and forth they have stopped responding so small claims issued against them today, it costs £35 to issue a claim through the courts and all the above is additional evidence that staff told us it was cancelled and to go home. They also updated their own webpage to say the slow was closed after the evacuation.

  20. If you booked through ATG, call them and explain the situation. ATG will then inform you that the theatre made a statement that the show was not cancelled and their staff never communicated this to clients. At this point, insist that ATG submits a complaint in your name with the theatre. In a couple of days, the theatre manager got in touch with me apologising, he offered a free ticket to another show of my choice, drinks and access to the VIP lounge in his initial response

  21. Having been told initially by ATG that no refund would be paid, I replied that if I did not receive a refund I would be contacting STAR the Dispute Resolution organisation. After a few days I received an email from the Theatre Royal Manager, offering sincere apologies and complimentary tickets for another show of my choice. Its worth persevering.

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