Today is my wife’s birthday. To celebrate we went to our local cinema in Cornwall last night to watch the live stream of the Royal Opera House production of Madama Butterfly. Here’s the notice on their website:
Antonio Pappano and Renato Balsadonna conduct two great casts led by Ermonela Jaho and Ana María Martínez in Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s production of Puccini’s deeply poignant opera.
Ermonela Jaho was breathtaking in the title role. Her singing was sublime, as was her acting. As the interviews before the show and during the interval showed, she managed to convey through her voice as well as her acting the growth and developing maturity in her character.
I’d forgotten that Cio-Cio San (Butterfly) is only 15 when she’s married to the caddish Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton as part of the deal to buy a 999-year lease on a house in Nagasaki. He seems to do this on a whim, as he passes through the port on his navy battleship. What a selfish swine he is! His remorse at the end is dastardly.
Elizabeth DeShong as Butterfly’s maid, Suzuki, was particularly touching in portraying her devotion to her young mistress.
He’s captivated by the girl’s radiant beauty and trusting innocence. There’s a slightly creepy edge to his character, given how young the girl is, and the wedding night scene is slightly unsettling as Butterfly lies passively on the floor at his feet as he salaciously unbuttons his tunic. This production never lapses into sentimentality: it’s hard-hitting and honest.
Some of his words take on a chilling significance in this new era of American politics when he brags about Americans’ view of themselves as having a god-given right to do what they like where they like with whom they like.
The story is simple and heartbreaking, and I’d defy anyone to sit through this magnificent production dry-eyed. The set is beautiful, the musicians, direction and singing spine-tingling. Even the lighting and costumes play an important part in the experience. Although the immediacy of a live performance is diminished by watching it on a screen, there’s a benefit derived from the clever film director’s use of well-prepared close-ups or choice of frame to enhance the story-telling and spectacle.
Butterfly’s big arias in the final third are particularly thrilling, and Ms Jaho sings and acts them with total conviction and passion. This is by far the best production of the opera I’ve seen – better even than the excellent Berlin Deutsche Oper performance we saw one Christmas a few years ago (when the Humming Song became my wife’s favourite part of the piece – maybe mine, too.)
If you get a chance to see one of these ROH live stream performances – they play all over the world – I’d urge you to do so. There’s a link HERE to their searchable schedule.
Living in the far SW of England as I do, it’s not often I get the chance to go to London for a theatrical performance of this calibre. This is definitely almost as good. Here’s the schedule of future productions, taken from the ROH website (like the lovely poster image; hope I”m not breaking copyright by reproducing it here.)