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Puccini Madama Butterfly

De Nederlandse Opera Recorded live in Amsterdam 2003

Opus Arte OA 0936 D
[2 DVDs 169 minutes]

Conductor Edo de Waart
Stage Director Robert Wilson
TV Director Brian Large
Set & Lighting Design Robert Wilson
Costume Design Frida Parmeggiani  

Madama Butterfly Cheryl Barker
Pinkerton Martin Thompson
Suzuki Catherine Keen
Sharpless Richard Stillwell
Kate Pinkerton Anneleen Bijnen
Goro Peter Blanchet
Yamadori Roger Smeets

This production of Madama Butterfly was Edo de Waart's first ever Puccini opera, and his pleasure and excitement are sincerely recorded in the short documentary included on the first disc of this set, which I would certainly recommend as a starting point. The director Robert Wilson has very firmly set his stamp on the production and it is useful to hear his thoughts and comment from some of the singers .

Wilson presents us with a virtually empty stage and such things as the sliding walls of the house and various props exist only in the mime of the performers. Costumes, in black or white for the principals and neutral shades for the minor characters, are a stylised blend of Japanese and western fashion, and starkly outlined against a plain backdrop. Much dramatic use is made of lighting.

The movement of the singers is controlled in great detail, and they adopt static poses with sudden and very precise movements of head and hands. It is actually rather difficult to sing whilst standing statue still, and there are times when the strain of doing this shows on faces. Cheryl Barker, in the title role, throws herself into the full spirit of the thing and gives a performance of real stature, as does Catherine Keen as Suzuki. Pinkerton and Sharpless are hampered by deeply unflattering outfits and remain virtual ciphers, but Goro and Yamadori fare better and display a good measure of malicious sleaze.

This approach will not appeal to all, but it is worthy of attention. The novelty of the mannerisms wears thin before the end, but the paring down to essentials certainly concentrates emotions and allows the music to play out the full tragedy of the second act.

It is certainly the complete antithesis of Anthony Minghella's Butterfly , currently running at ENO, where lavish and colourful costumes compete for attention with fans, ribbons, lanterns, origami birds, puppets, and cherry blossom by the mile. During the long curtain call sequence one can easily imagine the credits running on a superimposed screen, but it is a show that will certainly have wide appeal and bring some welcome new audience members to the Coliseum.

© Serena Fenwick