Thursday, July 18

Madama Butterfly – Royal Opera House

Director Daisy Evans’ revival is spirited but like Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s original production, the butterfly never flies as freely as the accompanying music in Puccini’s devastating tragedy about a young geisha who falls in love with an American naval officer.

Marriage broker Goro (Ya-Chung Huang) shows US naval lieutenant Pinkerton (Joshua Guerrero) around the home he will share with his bride-to-be in Nagasaki, although American Consul Sharpless (Lauri Vasar) 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 (Hongni Wu), and they are married by the Commissioner (Romanas Kudriašovas). Her love makes her willing to sacrifice everything which sees her disowned by her uncle, a Bonze (Jeremy White)..

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 (Josef Jeongmeen Ahn) 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 (Ivy Shi). 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 (Veena Akama-Makia): are our Butterfly’s hopes to finally be fulfilled or will tragedy ensue as the price of her honour?

Christian Fenouillat’s set design is to the point with bamboo screens sliding to reveal a variety of rather basic backdrops to support the unravelling narrative, but it all seems somewhat plain and there is a lack of obvious props to really bring it to life other than at the very end when it appears a case of too little, too late. Christophe Forey’s lighting design similarly fails to make the most of light, colour, and shadow opportunities throughout the piece and particularly when it could have the most impact such as the love duet that closes Act I or the Humming Chorus at the end of Act II. Again, it is left until almost the end and to a much lesser effect. Agostino Cavalca’s costumes certainly capture the symbolic contrast between East and West, and I thought Cio-Cio-San’s stylised Western clothing in Act II was inspired and offered a more layered interpretation of her character than is normally seen.

All of the cast sung strongly and whilst Vasar’s Consul was suitably emasculated, I especially enjoyed Wu’s fine vocal as Suzuki and the multi-layered performance she delivered on stage in a character often overlooked.

Grigorian has a strong instrument and often soared above the accompanying music, losing touch with the fragility of her character in the process. Guerrero’s performance lacked depth but arguably he is playing a shallow character: there needed to be more passion in his desire at the start as a minimum but that perhaps confirmed that in spite of strong performances, the underlying chemistry, even if misguided, wasn’t there.

Conductor Kevin John Edusi leads the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, wonderfully drawing out the emotion at the heart of this opera so beautifully that you could feel it as well as delight in its sound, with the playing at the start of Act III particularly moving as it anticipates the tragic conclusion. The music soared; I wish the butterfly had flown more with it.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 26th March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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