THE standing ovation at the end of Friday night’s performance of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the New Theatre was at once a celebration of the excellence of the music-making and a very visible gesture of support for a nation at war.

The Ukrainian singers and players taking their bows before us swiftly moved, as the now familiar blue and yellow flags appeared, into a rousing rendition of their National Anthem.

The opera impresario Ellen Kent has been bringing Ukrainian companies to our city for more than two decades. Only lately, however, has there come to be a political dimension to the visits, doubtless contributing to both the size and enthusiasm of audiences.

Over Butterfly and Verdi’s mightily martial Aida, which followed on Saturday, there was much to be enthusiastic about, not least in the no-nonsense traditional approach which brought much aural and visual delight.

While it cannot be pretended that conductor Vasyl Vasylenko, of Kiev’s Ukrainian Opera and Ballet Theatre, was in command of forces at the peak of technical prowess, always they proved fitting to the task in hand.

Oxford Mail: Ellen Kent Opera’s Madama Butterfly

A particular treat for audiences was supplied by the Korean soprano Olga Perrier, who gave an affecting portrait of the fragile CIo-Cio San in Butterfly, then returned the next night as the slave girl Aida.

In the former, of course, she becomes at 15 not only the victim of the unscrupulous seducer B. F. Pinkerton – admirably sung by tenor Vitalii Liskovetskyi – but also of her implacable devotion to a marital fidelity in which he does not share.

These days, the lecherous lieutenant is more easily identifiable as a villain and – unusual for a male lead in opera – received at curtain call a generous barrage of boos. His fellow Ukrainian, the baritone Olexandr Forkushak, made a powerful contribution in the role of the US Consul Sharpless whose advice for a proper caution in the officer’s dealings with the adolescent is sadly not heeded.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Natalia Matveeva delivered an impeccable portrayal of Butterfly’s devoted maid Suzuki.

Oxford Mail: Aida was staged by Ellen Kent Opera at the New Theatre Oxford

She and Mr Forkushak impressed audiences again in the Verdi work as Pharaoh’s daughter Amneris – vengeful rival to Aida for the favours of the military leader Radames – and the Ethiopian king Amonasro (who goes unrecognised as Aida’s dad).

As Radames, the Romanian tenor Sorin Lupo conducted himself in a suitable martial manner, if deprived on this occasion (theatre rules) of the black stallion that director Ellen Kent had prescribed for his triumphal entry.

Happily everything else about this most famous part of the opera – including blistering brass from the pit – was present and correct.

With the theme of war so strong in the work, it was inevitable that thoughts concerning current conflict would intervene.

This was particularly the case when the mighty Amonasro sang of war’s victims: “the old men, the women and the children”.

Pause for thought indeed.