Tuesday, July 23

Madama Butterfly – Metropolitan Opera

Paula Williams’ revival of Anthony Minghella’s original production is full of good intentions but too many gimmicks get in the way of Puccini’s devastating tragedy about a young geisha who falls in love with an American naval officer.

Marriage broker Goro (Tony Stevenson) shows US naval lieutenant Pinkerton (Jonathan Tetelman) around the home he will share with his bride-to-be in Nagasaki, although American Consul Sharpless (Lucas Meachem) warns him of the tragic consequences that may follow. The Butterfly duly lands in the form of young Japanese girl Cio-Cio-San (Asmik Grigorian) supported by maid Suzuki (Elizabeth DeShong), and they are married by the Commissioner (Paul Corona). Her love makes her willing to sacrifice everything which sees her disowned by her uncle, a Bonze (Robert Pomakov).

Three years on and Cio-Cio-San and Suzuki are almost destitute as they await Pinkerton’s return. Shunning suggestions that she should follow local custom to divorce him and marry Prince Yamadori (Jeongcheol Cha) instead, her hopes are raised by the arrival of Sharpless with a letter although he chooses not to reveal its full contents when she introduces him to her son by Pinkerton, Sorrow. The sound of a cannon from the harbour heralds the arrival of Pinkerton’s ship but after she emerges from a long night’s vigil, it is not him she discovers in the garden the next morning but another woman (Briana Hunter): are our Butterfly’s hopes to finally be fulfilled or will tragedy ensue as the price of her honour?

Michael Levine’s set design is cleverly composed utilising the sliding bamboo screens that form the marital home to conceal and reveal within scenes and move cast on and off stage in support of the unravelling narrative. Peter Mumford’s lighting design is similarly inspired illuminating a backdrop to change the scene, season and hour of the day and the Chinese lanterns were a good touch. Heng Feng’s costume designs were bright although the purpose of their colourful arrangements was perhaps a bit too subtle to be understood without her interpretation during the interval.

I was less convinced about the introduction of dreamlike sequences although both ballet soloists (Hsin-Ping Chang; Amir Levy) performed well, but the puppetry from Blind Summit Theatre was just unnecessary in my opinion and its extension to accommodate Sorrow with three operatives in blacks (Kevin Augustine; Tom Lee; Jonothon Lyons) may have seemed a good idea on paper but on stage served only to distract from the overall emotional drama, as did stage hands in blacks bringing essential props on and off stage as if by magic.

Grigorian has a strong instrument but as was seen last month at the Royal Opera House in London, her determination to play herself going through the experiences of the character rather than the character that has been written too often sees her losing touch with the accompanying music, and sometimes her own register, but especially here the fragility of the young girl she is meant to portray. With Tetelman, who by his own admission is on a journey to discover his voice, singing forcefully but focusing too much on some emotional redemption for Pinkerton in Act III, the result was two independently strong vocals with little chemistry or connection.

DeShong was composed but didn’t take the opportunities when Suzuki can come to the fore. With good supporting performances from Corona and Cha, the standout for me was Meacham’s powerful and honest portrayal of Sharpless with his fine voice complemented by a great stage performance.

Conductor Xian Zhang on her Met debut led the orchestra comfortably but at times too slowly, with the famous Humming Chorus suffering as a result.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 11th May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.