Cambodian Premiere Of ‘Madama Butterfly’: A Harmonious Blend of Cultures

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On December 10, 2023, Cambodia witnessed a landmark cultural event with the premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s celebrated opera, ‘Madama Butterfly’ at the Koh Pich Theatre in Phnom Penh. This performance brought together an array of Cambodian and international talent, offering a unique rendition of an opera that has enthralled audiences globally since 1904.

The opera 'Madama Butterfly' had its Cambodian premiere on December 10, 2023.
Giacomo Puccini’s opera ‘Madama Butterfly’ had its Cambodian premiere on December 10, 2023. / Image Credit: ABC.

‘Madama Butterfly’, set in Nagasaki, Japan, tells the story of a young Japanese geisha, Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly), who falls in love with and marries an American naval officer, Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton. Tragically, Pinkerton abandons her, and Cio-Cio-San, clinging to the belief that he will return, faces a devastating conclusion when he comes back with his American wife. The opera is renowned for its emotional depth, musical brilliance and commentary on love, betrayal, and cultural misunderstanding.

This Cambodian production, under the dual direction of His Royal Highness Prince Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong and Maestro Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini, was a rich tapestry of Khmer, Italian, and Japanese artistry. Leading the production were Ai Iwasaki of the Cambodia Opera Project and Gabriele Faja from Soundskool Music.

Yasko Fujii and Sethisak Khuon performing on stage at the premiere of Madama Butterfly at Koh Pich Theatre.
Yasko Fujii and Sethisak Khuon performing on stage at the premiere of Madama Butterfly at Koh Pich Theatre. / Image Credit: ABC.

Among the notable performers was Sethisak Khuon, award-winning tenor and Cambodia’s first internationally trained opera singer, who took the stage as Yamadori. He was joined by world-renowned opera stars such as Yasko Fujii, who portrayed Cio-Cio-San, Ai Iwasaki, who portrayed Cio-Cio-San’s trusted maid Suzuki, and Enrico Terrone-Guerra as Pinkerton. The opera was further elevated with live music from the Phnom Penh Philharmonic and Choir.

During his opening remarks, the Italian Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, Paolo Dionisi, expressed his pride in supporting this global collaboration. He highlighted the enduring legacy of Puccini’s opera, with a special mention of the upcoming 120th anniversary of Madama Butterfly in 2024, and announced plans for more operatic ventures in Cambodia.

The Royal Cambodian Ballet were featured in Madama Butterfly's Cambodian premiere.
The Royal Cambodian Ballet were featured in Madama Butterfly’s Cambodian premiere. / Image Credit: ABC.

HRH Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong spoke of fulfilling the vision of the late Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, who aimed to merge opera with Cambodia’s Royal Ballet. He shared that the Cambodian royal family had even been in conversation with Puccini’s own granddaughter who encouraged the artistic endeavour. This vision was finally realised in this production, notably with the ballet’s participation in Act II and Sethisak’s portrayal of Yamadori in traditional Cambodian royal attire.

Supported by entities such as ABC Beer, the premiere of Madama Butterfly in Cambodia was not just a celebration of artistic fusion but also a stepping stone for future cultural exchanges. This event symbolised the universal resonance of Puccini’s masterpiece, bringing it to life in a new cultural and geographic setting.

The Madama Butterfly opera was held at the Koh Pich theatre in Phnom Penh on December 10, 2023.
The Madama Butterfly opera was held at the Koh Pich theatre in Phnom Penh on December 10, 2023. / Image Credit: ABC.

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