Anthony Minghella’s spectacular Madam Butterfly, which first premiered in 2006, returns to the Coliseum, a cinematic masterpiece which is still jaw-dropping today.
A massive glowing panoramic screen fills the back of the stage, the colour and intensity changing to match the time of day and mood of the drama. Michael Levine’s set, with smooth sliding shoji partitions, and Carolyn Choa’s choreography, incorporating fans, lanterns and origami swans, perfectly compliment Puccini’s lush, haunting score. The first glimpse of Butterfly and her friends walking up the hill in their vibrant kimonos makes our hearts skip a beat.
Puccini’s opera was first performed in 1904, a time when Westerners held great fascination for all things Japanese. The sight of Europeans coiffed and made-up Asian-style is a bit jarring today. So too is the casual mention of Butterfly’s very young age. She is just 15 when pimped off to the much older US Naval Officer BF Pinkerton, which would today be classed as child sex tourism. Dimitri Pittas portrays Pinkerton’s arrogant villainy so convincingly that he draws some playful, panto-style boos from the audience during the curtain call.
Natalya Romaniw delivers the leading role as both tender and powerful. Rather than a doe-eyed naïve teenager, her Butterfly is stubborn and determined in her unwavering belief in her marriage, despite all reasonable evidence. And Roderick Williams is a poised and elegant US consul Sharpless, the voice of reason and humanity in the midst of a horrific misunderstanding.
A special mention must go to the Blind Summit puppeteers. It takes three shadowy operators to create the delicate toddling of Butterfly’s baby son. The intense love between the wooden boy and his mother is palpable; making the ending all the more heart-breaking.
Madam Butterfly, English National Opera, London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ES. Tickets £10-£125, until 17 April 2020.