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S&H Opera review

Puccini, ‘Madam Butterfly’ English National Opera, Friday May 17th 2002 (ME)



This Graham Vick production, now in its eleventh revival, still provides plenty of frisson in terms of staging and characterization, although the concept of Pinkerton as wholly without even a shred of sensitivity or remorse will not please everyone. The mise en scène is as striking as ever, with its copious use of red carnations to suggest both blood and celebration, and its magical employment of silhouetted figures and stylized movement, although this time around the scenes in Butterfly’s little home seemed to have taken on a somewhat fussy air, beautifully detailed as they were.

Julia Melinek portrays the ingénue convincingly, although her voice lacks a degree of warmth, particularly when singing forte, and her timbre is not as inherently touching as is needed to move us during ‘Vogliatemi bene’ but she rises to most of the dramatic high points and gave a fine account of ‘Un bel di,’ refreshingly free of diva – esque gesture. Christine Rice adds another deeply felt and carefully thought through portrayal to her increasing gallery; her Suzuki was everything one could wish for, her lovely warm tone, utterly convincing acting and sensitive understanding of the part giving constant pleasure.

Bonaventura Bottone might be regarded as ideal for the part of Pinkerton; his voice is powerful, and he clearly has no qualms about portraying this unlovable man, but in this production he is not even given a burden of guilt to make him interesting. Alan Opie, as reliable and musical as ever, contributed a humane, philosophical Sharpless, and Leslie John Flanagan and Richard Roberts impressed as Yamadori and Goro. Diction throughout was exemplary, with only one important moment going for nothing, and that was Sharpless’ warning to Pinkerton ‘She believes you!’ which needed to be set further centre to be heard.

This may well be the last outing for this stalwart of the ENO’s productions, but it is worth recalling that with each showing, new opera lovers are made; on the night I went, there were quite a few first – timers, many of whom required their handkerchiefs throughout most of the last act, and rightly so - this may be the eleventh revival, and it’s the fourth time I have seen the production, but the way Vick sets that scene where Suzuki, Butterfly and Sorrow wait for Pinkerton, the postures of their bodies so rigid yet so tremulous, and the little touches such as that searing moment when Sorrow is held aloft by his father, are moments of pure theatre which define what opera production should be about.


Melanie Eskenazi

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