“He dies with honour, who cannot live with honour”
Madama Butterfly, music composed by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, conducted by Antonio Pappano, the Royal Opera, Thursday 30th March 2017, reviewed by Leslie Jones
This is the 5th revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madama Butterfly. Minimalism is the operative word here. Furniture and fittings were evidently in short supply at the Pinkerton residence. Indeed, clothes were stored under the floor. In Act 1, a photograph of the port of Nagasaki, in the background, suffices to indicate the location of the action. Especial credit should go to lighting designer Christophe Forey for his simple but beautiful visual effects.
Argentinian tenor Marcelo Puente, making his Royal Opera debut in the role of B F Pinkerton, cuts a suitably dashing and imposing figure, resplendent in his naval uniform. He excels at depicting the sexually besotted husband of his child bride, Cio-Cio-San, performed by Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho. Once she warmed up, Ms Jaho drew spontaneous applause in Act 2 for her moving rendition of Un bel dì. The aria in which she described going to the American mission and converting to Christianity was also compelling. She clearly packs a punch in the acting department, too, with her mocking comments about Prince Yamadori and her imitation of an imaginary American judge. The scene in Act 1 in which Butterfly and US consul Sharpless (Scott Hendriks) peruse Pinkerton’s letter was heart-rending.
Overall, Maestro Pappano’s conducting was impressive, especially in the last two acts. Interestingly, Puccini’s score has a distinctly Wagnerian character in places, with a memorable fate leitmotif. In ‘The Last Chord’, John Snelson refers to the “obsessive Wagnerian-influenced erotics of the prelude…” (official programme).
Self-deception (Butterfly) and the deception of others (by Pinkerton) are pivotal themes in this opera. So the unexpected arrival of Alastair Campbell and his party (he of the “dodgy dossier” etc.) at the stage door entrance in Floral Street was apposite. But unlike Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, who certainly had his faults (notably, cynicism bordering on nihilism, egocentricity and bad faith), Alastair John Campbell does not do remorse. “America forever…”
DR LESLIE JONES is the Editor of QR