Madam Butterfly, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2013Posted on 15 October 2013
Puccini’s Madam Butterfly may not be my favourite opera, but this Anthony Minghella production is magical. The silent pulling of a rope to raise a screen before the start, and then the mime that pre-signifies the trapped Butterfly at the end, opens us to a world different from our own.
In Act I the extraordinarily bold colours of Peter Mumford’s lighting, juxtaposed with Hang Feng’s glorious costumes, gives the effect of something wholly outside our experience, and the twirling of long scarves enhances the magic. As darkness descends on this strange oriental world at the end of Act I, and Butterfly sings happily of the starlit night, the stage lighting and paper lanterns do the rest.
In Acts II and III the Bunraku-style puppetry creates its own magic, and using a puppet to represent Butterfly’s child allows expressions of pathos that no human child could match. Then at the start of Act III before Butterfly has admitted the awful truth, a puppet of herself appears in a wild dance of death, and the orchestra under the able baton of Gianluca Marciano lets rip. Eight paper birds fly overhead, and Butterfly and her maid Suzuki watch them, portending a future they would rather not see.
This co-production with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the first and only by the late Anthony Minghella and his wife Carloyn Choa, was beautifully revived by Sarah Tipple, with the Blind Summit Theatre again performing the puppetry. In the first night cast, Dina Kuznetsova as Butterfly portrayed a mixture of gentleness and emotional power in her famous Act II aria as she longingly and fancifully awaits the return of Pinkerton. Her voice showed undoubted strength, though uncertainty of pitch on some high notes, but Timothy Richards as Pinkerton lacked the vocal power for the size of auditorium.
Far stronger was George von Bergen, engaging and sympathetic as the US consul, Sharpless, and Pamela Helen Stephen sang a fine Suzuki. Both these two also produced clear diction, and will stay with this show for the remainder of the run.
On 21, 26 Oct, and 2, 8, 13 Nov, Mary Plazas, who sang the original Butterfly in Minghella’s ENO production will take over from Dina Kuznetsova, and on 21, 29 Nov, Gwyn Hughes Jones will sing Pinkerton. With these changes of cast, performances will continue until December 1 — click here for details.