Madama Butterfly, Glyndebourne, May 2018Posted on 20 May 2018
Before the curtain rose on opening night, Executive Chairman Gus Christie came on stage to welcome “this auspicious day” when we now have a Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Future Patrons of Glyndebourne perhaps?
Auspicious too to open with Annilese Miskimmon’s wonderful production of Butterfly, new to the tour last season. Act I is set in the shabby office of the marriage broker with its multiple filing cabinets, where movie clips about Yanks looking for Japanese wives are shown. For a teenage girl whose family has fallen on hard times a rosy future shines from across the ocean, and Miskimmon’s production gives huge clarity to Cio-Cio-San’s announcement that her father is dead, and that she is only fifteen. The breath of tragedy is already in the air, particularly as we see the arrogance of two or three US sailors as they lounge around and force the Bonzo to leave when he comes to remonstrate. This is not the imperial Japan at the time of the opera’s premiere (1904) but a country recovering from war in the 1950s when the American dream was in full swing, and a new world beckoned.
In Act II a small toy battleship lies centre stage, and during the Intermezzo we see Cio-Cio-San’s dream of her husband carrying her over the threshold three years ago. When Pinkerton finally arrives he carries a present, not for his wife but his little son, who opens it later as his mother is finally determined to end her humiliation and leave him to his new life. There is pathos aplenty here, beautifully expressed by the singers and superbly enhanced by the London Philharmonic under the baton of Omer Meir Wellber, who evidently relishes the dynamics of Italian opera and conducts with a wonderfully light touch.
Moldovan soprano Olga Busuioc gave a delightful performance of Cio-Cio-San, showing great strength and firmness in the high moments, and the tone and portrayal of American tenor Joshua Guerrero was ideal for the carelessly hedonistic Pinkerton. A wonderfully strong and convincing Suzuki by Elizabeth DeShong, with Michael Sumuel a calming presence as a beautifully voiced American Consul Sharpless, and I loved his quel diavolo d’un Pinkerton!when he metaphorically reverses the initials B.F.
Simple designs by Nicky Shaw, with a chalk-stripe suit for the marriage broker (Carlo Bosi), gold-braided uniform for Cio-Cio-San’s later suitor Prince Yamadori (Simon Mechlinski) and drab clothing for the other Japanese men, well reflected the post-war setting. Lighting by Mark Jonathan gave fine clarity, and beautiful magic when needed.
A super start to the 2018 season, with only a scattering of tickets still available despite the two month run.
Performances continue on various dates until July 18, with a live cinema relay on June 21 — for details click here.