The Year of Words: Day 316 - Madam Butterfly did not give me Covid.

I don't think this October and November are going to be months I wish to repeat any time soon. They have been dominated by Taz being three legged at best, then being operated on for a knee replacement and now being week two into six weeks of enforced rest.

To non dog-owners that sounds pretty trivial, I mean, it's just a dog right?

As Vaughan might say Wrong! R, O, N, G. As any dog owner will tell you its a member of the family in distress and dependant on you for their welfare and health outcomes. It's also a recovery regime that forces you to be cruel to be kind, so not the nicest for dog or owner. Hopefully it will be worth it and a solid recovery can be made.

As if that wasn't enough to juggle with the normal pressures of work and normal life, Vaughan is significantly below par and dealing with some work stresses and nagging health conditions which both cause spikes of anxiety and cause poor sleep - a vicious circle. So when both are in need of TLC and support its made the last month or so challenging on a number of levels.

Welsh National Opera - Madam Butterfly (Oxford)

Earlier in the week, we made an evening dash to Oxford's New Theatre to see Madam Butterfly performed by Welsh National Opera.

We were helped more than he could know by Mike Durston who watched Taz for the evening giving us the only evening break likely over the period leading up to Christmas.

The evening out was worth its weight in gold and we were lucky enough to meet Russell who works with/for WNO on the evening albeit briefly in the bar.

We had 'ultimate experience' tickets which meant very good seats and a ramakin of popcorn a bottle of bubbles and half a dozen chocs. I must admit though the term 'ultimate experience' was something of an oversell, it was very welcome and a relaxing couple of non-nursing hours did me good.

As to the production, it was a curate's egg of a show. The orchestra were somewhat depleted and I feared for the conductor hoping there was a defibrillator somewhere within shouting distance. You couldn't fault his physicality. By the interval he was sweating like a small nun at a penguin shoot and I thoroughly enjoyed the orchestra (including both a very excited and determinedly loud trombone player and an incorrigibly flirtatious second violinist,) The interval ice creams were also exceptional.

The vocals were ok to good. The lead tenor wasn't as good as he thinks he is and the second lead bass baritone was better than he thought (in my humble opinion). Butterfly herself was an understudy on the night and not your typical butterfly lacking some of the frail vulnerability and not having the strongest of voices. That said she sang 'that song' well and was well received by the audience.

Where it failed for me was in the staging, costume and set design. Minimalism is fine, but for me Butterfly is a piece of its time and should be messed with rarely if at all. Setting it in unknown time (it wasn't stated but featured fitted kitchens, rainfall showers, T-Rex dinosaur pyjamas and front loading washing machines) was a time transfer that didn't work for me. Similarly, the director included body posture, behaviours and stylistics that were so modern they made Butterfly's actions, beliefs and naivety implausible.

Finally the set (see picture above) attempted to use a box house throughout rather like the barricade in Les Misérables, to the extent that it becomes an extra cast member. However for me that didn't work and resulted in too many forced delays and odd stage placement.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if the set design hadn't been heavily influenced by the 2019 West End production of Company where box staging worked splendidly. Here, I regret it didn't for me.

Also the costumes were just too forced and neither fish, foul or fine red herring.

Not quite all white on the night.

As can be seen in the stage shot the costume designer went for ultra modern and mostly white, including what can only be described as a semi translucent pac-a-mac.

It could very easily have gone My Fair Lady with pure black and white for the wedding scene which may have worked better - but I think that was a trick either missed or seen as having been done before.

Wigs were pink stylised swirly cones and with the distinct look of a raspberry Mr Whippy and the white patent leather boots were right out of Charlie Girl of the 1960s. All in all, it was rather confused and overly sterile. When combined with the minimalist stage, at times it looked and felt less like Japan and more like the Nissan car plant.

So, musically great. I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening listening to the orchestra and many of the cast. I had problems with the producti0n's directorial and staging choices. That made it holed below the water line for my taste. - However, I'm a notoriously tough audience and it was a most welcome night out.

We both came back with sniffles and it was easy to see how the whole evening could have become a super-spreader event if one or two people had tested positive. However, we've both done lateral flow tests today and I'm pleased to report Madam Butterfly did not give us Covid.


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