The Organ

Puccini: Madama Butterfly

De Nederlandse Opera
Edo de Waart

This is a most unusual but highly convincing approach to Madama Butterfly. Robert Wilson moves about as far from verismo as one can get to present the narrative with as little movement as possible and a high degree of stylisation. There are no props except for a single chair, Butterfly’s son is an integral part of the action, being at least 10 years old, and the costuming, while leaning towards the Japanese could as easily be classical Greek. I had never realised for many Wagnerisms there are in Butterfly, but the often statuesque approach and the universality of the telling make it look more like early Wieland Wagner than the more emotionally heart-on-sleeve productions we have become used to. The Director is also responsible for the set and lighting, which has a formidable integrity. You may not like the end result - I happen to think it works exceptionally well - but you can not fault the sensitivity to detail and character.

Cheryl Barker has the strength of a Medea in the lead role but she has much to content with as both Martin Thompson’s Pinkerton and Anneleen Bijnen’s Kate make a frighteningly powerful opposition in the second act. Richard Stilwell is a fine Sharpless, often at sea within the events unfurling around him. Peter Blanchet is a superb Goro, the most positive characterisation I can ever recall, making the character far more important and dangerous to the outcome than is usual.

The whole is driven with a clean precision from the pit by Edo de Waart and the conclusion, if not the normal tear-jerker, has a power which transcends simplistic emotions.