English National Opera – Madam Butterfly [Anthony Minghella’s production with Mary Plazas & Gwyn Hughes Jones]

Madam Butterfly – Opera in two acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica after David Belasco’s play Madame Butterfly based on John Luther Long’s short story after Pierre Loti’s tale Madame Chrysanthéme [Sung in David Parry’s English translation]

Cio-Cio-San [Madam Butterfly] – Mary Plazas
Suzuki – Pamela Helen Stephen
F. B. Pinkerton – Gwyn Hughes Jones
Sharpless – John Fanning
Goro – Michael Colvin
Prince Yamadori – Jonathan McGovern
The Bonze – Mark Richardson
Yakuside – Philip Daggett
Imperial Commissioner – Paul Napier-Burrows
Official Registrar – Roger Begley
Cio-Cio San’s Mother – Lyn Cook
Aunt – Judith Douglas
Cousin – Morag Boyle
Kate Pinkerton – Catherine Young
Sorrow, Cio-Cio-San’s Child – Tom Espiner, Giulia Innocenti & Laura Caldow [puppeteers]

Chorus & Orchestra of English National Opera
Oleg Caetani

Anthony Minghella – Original director
Carolyn Choa – Associate Director & Original choreographer
Sarah Tipple – Revival director
Michael Levine – Set designer
Han Feng – Costume designer
Peter Mumford – Lighting designer
Anita Griffin – Revival choreographer
Mark Down & Nick Barnes (Blind Summit Theatre) – Puppetry

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 8 May, 2012
Venue: The Coliseum, London

Madam Butterfly, ENO, May 2012. Photograph: Clive BardaThis first night of the fourth revival of the late Anthony Minghella’s award-winning production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, a tragic story of love and loss, got off to a rocky start – unlike the match between Pinkerton and Butterfly – and finished in poignant and secure fashion – unlike the match between Pinkerton and Butterfly!

Minghella’s Associate Director is absent, replaced by Sarah Tipple: placement of characters is less tidy, though her appreciation of the stunning visuals and how to deploy these was wholly successful. Particularly arresting is when Butterfly is first seen, here before the music begins, as a geisha. The entry of Butterfly and her attendants to her wedding is full of local colour, and sets up the audience’s sympathy for her: she is being delivered unto her fateful destiny. A quite stunning visual was of the singers themselves: those playing Americans are about six-feet-tall whereas those playing Japanese people are less tall, raising thoughts about American dominance over the humble and vulnerable Japanese, a gentle people (it is said) – it works and adds to the story-telling.

Pamela Helen Stephen as Suzuki & Mary Plazas as Butterfly (Madam Butterfly, ENO, May 2012). Photograph: Clive BardaThe doomed heroine Cio-Cio-San is sung by Mary Plazas, an assumption into which she injected much pathos. Her strength was in Act Two (split by an interval here and designated as being in two parts: no Act Three), where her open voice matched Butterfly’s unclouded optimism for Pinkerton’s return, though the familiar ‘One fine day’ aria surprisingly lacked this quality. She was in fine form for duets with Gwyn Hughes Jones’s sympathetic Pinkerton. True, we do not like the way in which Pinkerton meddles and plays with his new-found Japanese toys (Butterfly and her culture) but he is not entirely to blame. He is naïve. Hughes Jones’s lyrical tenor conveyed his torn loyalties, and the Act One love-duet with Plazas was beautifully presented.

John Fanning as the counsul Sharpless was quite superb. His was a nuanced performance: he understood the care needed to convey the bad news during the ‘Letter Scene’, yet commanded when necessary when reprimanding Pinkerton. In similarly superb form is Pamela Helen Stephen as Butterfly’s maid Suzuki: like Sharpless, she is feisty – when protecting Butterfly – or entirely sympathetic for her mistress’s plight. The marriage broker Goro is occasionally funny but often nasty and manipulative: Michael Colvin managed the former qualities smoothly and brought bite to the latter.

On this occasion the puppeteers got in the way of feeling empathy for Butterfly and Sorrow, her son. The Orchestra played with conviction under Oleg Caetani’s detailed conducting, and the chorus was hauntingly beautiful during the ‘Humming Chorus’. Overall, an entirely believable performance that made for a thoroughly good night at the opera.

  • Further performances on 10, 17, 19, 24, 26, 28 & 30 May at 7:30 p.m., and 13 May & 2 June at 3 p.m.
  • Box Office: 0871 911 0200
  • English National Opera

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content