Madam Butterfly at London Coliseum
It’s easy to see why Anthony Minghella’s production of Madam Butterfly is being revived again and again. Featuring various aspects of Japanese theatre – including dancing, Bunraku puppet theatre and traditionally Japanese stage design – it achieves a standard of aesthetic beauty rarely found elsewhere, fitting so perfectly with Puccini’s (admittedly less than perfectly accurate) representation of Japanese culture that one could hardly imagine the opera without it. Glen Sheppard’s revival for the English National Opera is an ingenious mix which works from start to finish.
Pristine production aside, the casting is equally excellent. Most of the singers do a brilliant job – Dimitri Pittas as Pinkerton and Stephanie Windsor-Lewis as Suzuki are outstanding – but it is Natalya Romaniw as Cio-Cio San who completely steals the show. With a dominating stage presence and a powerful soprano which puts the orchestra to shame, she flawlessly mingles her soft voice with Puccini’s heart-wrenching music in a way which sounds almost magical. Add to this an impressive tonal register and you know you’re in for quite a ride; her rendition of Un bel dì vedremo is flawless. Maryn Brabbins offers fantastic support with his highly competent conducting of the ENO orchestra.
With a haunting lighting design by Peter Mumford – Ian Jackson-French in this revival – the production never ceases to be atmospheric to the core, with a clever use of cold lights in the more chilling moments and warm lights in the optimistic ones. This serves to build the tension terrifically well as the opera moves towards its inevitably fatal conclusion. A particularly beautiful moment is in the instrumental opening to the third act; while Cio-Cio San, her son and Suzuki are still waiting for Pinkerton at dawn, a Japanese dancer performs a wonderful piece of choreography which matches the mood perfectly.
Any criticism of this production should be directed towards Puccini’s opera, which, while utterly gorgeous, does have its flaws. But this revival of Minghella’s Madam Butterfly is masterfully performed and so stunning that one can hardly take issue with it. A fantastic success which is a must-see for anybody who loves Puccini’s music.
Photos: Jane Hobson
Madam Butterfly is at the London Coliseum from 29th February until 17th April 2020. For further information or to book visit the ENO’s website here.