Royal Opera House
Pinkerton – Freddie De Tommaso
Goro – Alexander Kravets
Suzuki – Patricia Bardon
Sharpless – Lucas Meachem
Cio-Cio-San – Lianna Haroutounian
Imperial Commissioner – Dawid Kimberg
Original Registrar – Nigel Cliffe
Cio-Cio-San’s Mother – Eryl Royle
Uncle Yaukusidé – Andrew O’Connor
Cousin – Amy Catt
Aunt – Kiera Lyness
Bonze – Jeremy White
Dolore – Leo Stokkland-Baker
Prince Yamadori – Alan Pingarrón
Kate Pinkerton – Rachel Lloyd
Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier (directors)
Daniel Dooner (revival director)
Christian Fenouillat (set designs)
Agostino Cavalca (costumes)
Christophe Forey (lighting)
|Images: © Yasuko Kageyama|
‘In the 21st century, staging Madama Butterfly poses questions for any opera house. The opera’s essence is a violent collision between two cultures. But how to represent another culture on stage with truth and sensitivity? In reviving Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s classic production, we have involved Japanese practitioners and academic to work towards a Butterfly both true to the spirit of the original and more authentic in its representation of Japan.’
Not perfect, far from it; one could readily pick holes in that section of the programme’s ‘welcome’ statement from Oliver Mears and Antonio Pappano. For instance, t is at least debatable, to my mind rather more than that, that the work’s ‘essence’ is something else entirely. Moreover, if the Royal Opera were honest about it—this would be true of pretty much every opera company on the planet—staging such a work and production did not really ‘pose questions’ until very recently indeed in the twenty-first century. It is good, though, to see the opera world showing some such development, and we should be gracious about that: we all, after all, have a long, long way to go in working towards a more racially (and otherwise) just society.
I do not recall having seen the production before, so cannot comment on how noticeable the changes are. I suspect some of them would have passed me by, had I not been advised what to look for, though that doubtless says more about my (ignorant) standpoint than anything else. Costumes, we read, have undergone modification to make them more of the period in which the production is set, not least in terms of their signification of social status. Make-up has also been modified, in order to appear less caricatured, more ‘natural’ or at least appropriate. This I can see from looking at pictures from previous outings. Otherwise, Leiser and Caurier’s production seems to me ‘classic’ only in the sense of standing firmly in the middle of the road: a degree of abstraction, more as style than concept, remaining essentially realist; no Zeffirelli horror, but nothing to scare the Daily Mail horses either. Christophe Forey’s lighting guides the action, subtly and more starkly. And revival director Daniel Dooner does a good job guiding his forces on stage, although the heroine’s demise proved unfortunate.
That final rolling around on stage was an extreme conclusion to a performance from Lianna Haroutounian that was throughout more strong than subtle. I am not sure it was especially in keeping with the avowed intentions of this revision, but it did no especial harm. Ultimately, though, it was difficult to take her seriously enough in the role. Freddie De Tommaso’s Pinkerton also tended towards the broad-brush, albeit with greater attention to detail: a perfectly decent, if not especially illuminating, performance. I presume a pronounced lachrymose tendency in the third act to have been an interpretative decision, just in case one did not loath the character enough; the self-pity did the trick, in any case. Patricia Bardon’s Suzuki was constant and compassionate, very much what one expected—and wanted—to hear. For me, Lucas Meachem’s Sharpless was the pick of the bunch, his thoughtful, variegated performance unquestionably founded in the text. The Royal Opera Chorus was not on its best form, comparisons with Covent Garden’s recent Lohengrin again unfortunate.
If work and production are to be further re-evaluated, then having someone capable of leading such re-evaluation from the pit would help; enlisting someone capable of holding one’s attention would be a bare minimum. Better still, consider a staging that engages more deeply with the racial and sexual violence, as well as the devastating imperialism, that lie at this opera's heart (or lack thereof).