Madam Butterfly tells the story of Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly), a young Japanese girl fallen on hard times who falls in love with an American Naval Lieutenant, F. B. Pinkerton. The tragic love story tells of how, shortly after their wedding, Pinkerton returns to the United States, and Butterfly, left alone with their child, patiently waits his return, never abandoning hope.
This revival of Anthony Minghella’s Butterfly is comprised of stunning sets and costumes, including the imaginative use of Bunraku (Japanese Puppet Theatre). Even in its fifth revival, by Sarah Tipple, the production is just as powerful as ever.
The set is simple yet very effective, with a sloping section at the back below an opening that allows backlighting of various colours to be used. The opera begins with the wonderful dancing of Ayano Honda, backlit with a strong red contrasting with the polished black of the stage floor. Butterfly does not have an overture, rather, a short orchestral prelude before the opening duet between Pinkerton (Timothy Richards) and Goro (Alun Rhys-Jenkins). The sliding walls for the house are simply yet effectively reproduced with sliding screens that can moved across the stage. This opening scene brings out some of the humour that is sprinkled throughout Butterfly while the orchestra provides some foreshadow of what is to come.
Dina Kuznetsova’s entry as Cio-Cio San is bold and convincing, accompanied by her relatives wearing a fantastic array of costumes. All bright colours and large hair styles courtesy of costume designer Han Feng. The chorus (Butterfly’s relatives) blend together well throughout but have a few uncomfortable moments of intonation difficulties which slightly mar the humming chorus but are mostly negligible.
The entry of the Bonze is accompanied by some wonderfully whirling dancers who serve to greatly highlight the emotional scene. The theatricality of this part, and of all the production in fact, is beautifully wed to the music in such as a way as to really bring all the emotions to life without getting in the way at all. Sorrow (Cio-Cio-San’s child), a puppet dressed in a naval uniform, is incredibly expressive with some particularly poignant movements. Another emotional highlight is the use of the red silks to depict the blood or wounds that occur as part of Butterfly’s death.
Dina Kuznetsova is a wonderful Butterfly, with a full-bodied and warm tone that is masterfully manipulated at various points to achieve different colours, without ever losing intensity. George von Bergen is wonderful as Sharpless with Alun Rhys-Jenkins being equally memorable as Goro. Timothy Richards is an appealing Pinkerton, however at times difficult to hear over the rather large swells in volume from the orchestra. Gianluca Marcianò at times seems to be milking the romance for all it is worth when perhaps a slightly more delicate touch is required and at other times a faster tempo could be beneficial. Pamela Helen Stephen (Suzuki) is convincing and steadfast bringing some nice colour to the role.
This production is incredibly resonant on an emotional level and visually striking. The set compliments the music perfectly while not getting in the way. Overall it is highly enjoyable and well-worth seeing, a stunning creation.