Madama Butterfly (DVD)
Ermonela Jaho, Marcelo Puente, Scott Hendricks, Elizabeth Deshong; Royal Opera Chorus & Orchestra/antonio Pappano; dir. Moshe Leiser, Patrice Caurier (London, 2017)
Opus Arte DVD: OA 1268 D;
Blu-ray: OA BD7244 D 138 mins Traditionalists need not avert their gaze from Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s production: there’s a house on the hill with sliding paper walls, there’s minimal furniture, and when the walls become doors we are treated to a spectacular view of Nagasaki harbour below. Yet everything is not quite what it seems. The tragedy is played out on a kind of Kabuki stage, and Butterfly’s make-up and that of other ‘local’ characters borrows from traditional Japanese theatre. This Cio-cio San is married in a western bridal veil and in Act II wears a long skirt that Kate Pinkerton might have fancied. ★ere is a version of Puccini’s opera with a very modern moral, namely the dangers of cultural appropriation.
Antonio Pappano is particularly alert to Puccini borrowing traditional Japanese melodies; at times he makes you hear this score, as well as the drama on stage, as a tug of war between East and West, one insidiously passive and the other brassy and imperial. All well and good but sometimes he chooses idiosyncratic tempos. The opening of the opera is almost comically fast, while the Act III Intermezzo is positively lugubrious, despite some ravishing playing by the woodwind.
Ermonela Jaho is suitably girlish for a teenage child bride in Act I, but doesn’t quite have the required vocal heft for her abandonment and suicide. Marcelo Puente sings Pinkerton carefully, but his third act remorse is about as affecting as a sheet of cardboard. It’s Sharpless and Suzuki who steal the show – a consul with a tender conscience from Scott ★endricks and Elizabeth Dehong as a maid who could melt the stoniest heart. It’s when she tells Butterfly the truth about Pinkerton that the tears begin to flow. Christopher Cook PERFORMANCE ★★★★ PICTURE & SOUND ★★★★