Madama Butterfly – review

Royal Opera House, London

International opera houses such as Covent Garden need fail-safe productions of works that feature in most seasons, in which multiple casts can be accommodated as unfussily as possible. Now eight years old, and in its fourth reincarnation, Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser's staging of Madama Butterfly has, surprisingly perhaps, evolved into one of those dependables.

Over the years, much of the kitsch that characterised it when new seems to have been quietly abandoned, although traces remain: the landscape, covered with what looks like pink bubble bath, that replaces the backdrop of Nagasaki when Butterfly makes her first appearance; and the tacky flapping gestures she makes as she dies. But generally the production's straightforwardness and refusal to labour political subtexts has become its strength, and its ability to retain its crispness is shown by this excellent revival, which Caurier and Leiser themselves returned to supervise.

Three sopranos take the title role over the course of the run, but those that follow Kristïne Opolais will have their work cut out to match the intensity and intelligence of this Royal Opera debutante – her Butterfly a finely calibrated mix of formality and vulnerability. James Valenti's Pinkerton is the archetypal all-American hunk, complete with stiff-legged George Dubya swagger and singing that gained in lustre as the first night went on.

Anthony Michaels-Moore contributes a suitably handwringing Sharpless, Helene Schneiderman a gently understated Suzuki, but it's the conducting of Andris Nelsons (who happens to be Opolais's partner) that really makes the performance special. Right from the start of a tinglingly quick prelude, Nelsons urges the drama forward, bringing out every colour in Puccini's orchestration, cushioning the voices expertly. It's thrilling stuff.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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