Madama Butterfly from WNO
A bold new Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini, from WNO in Cardiff, at Wales Millennium Centre, Saturday 2nd October 2021, reviewed by David Truslove
Welsh National Opera’s return to live performance ushers in Lindy Hume’s strikingly modern Madama Butterfly. Silk screens and sliding panels associated with Joachim Hertz’s traditional staging, in place since 1978, now move aside for Isabelle Bywater’s dazzlingly white cubes set on a revolve. This neon-lit slice of minimalism does for Butterfly’s executive suite. Bedroom and shower loom over kitchen and utility room, a deliberately misshapen apartment conjuring not so much comfortable domesticity, but chilling alienation. Its strong visual impact artfully situates the audience as voyeurs to Butterfly’s naivety and disintegration which Hume likens to an “exquisite sadism”.
Given the heated discussions whether much-loved operas should be jettisoned if they affront modern sensibilities, Hume has removed specific Japanese references and historically contentious imperialism. Everything is rerouted to engage with contemporary obsessions on coercion, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. She has ditchedNagasaki for a more culturally neutral space, creating what she loftily claims is an alternatively “imagined biosphere”, an unspecific location in a “dystopic near-future version of our own society”. By these means she smooths away cultural stereotypes that have enraged those who, like the musicologist Susan Clary, want to “pin this opera up in the museum of strange cultural practices of the past”. Continue reading