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Puccini’s Madama Butterfly – Glyndebourne | Review

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly - Glyndebourne
MADAMA BUTTERFLY by Puccini
Glyndebourne Festival 2018
Directed by Annilese Miskimmon
Designed by Nicky Shaw
Lighting designed by Mark Jonathan
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Omer Meir Wellber
Olga Busuioc as Cio-Cio-San

Marquee TV is a subscription streaming service, enabling you to watch arts programmes of all sorts either on your laptop, tablet or, using an app, your television, for less than £9 per month.

My introduction to this service was Puccini’s 1904 melodramatic opera Madama Butterfly in a production recorded at Glyndebourne in 2018. As someone who rarely watches opera, plays or ballet online, preferring the ‘live’ experience, I have to say that I was very impressed with the clarity of the picture quality as well as the sound, both of which equal if not surpass that of the DVD/BluRay available of the same production, costing about £20.

When it was first staged in 2016, Annilese Miskinnon’s production was unusually controversial for Glyndebourne, Nicky Shaw’s designs being described as ‘ugly’ in the Daily Telegraph, the first act being set in the marriage broker’s shop rather than in the typical Japanese house that US Naval officer Pinkerton has bought for his ‘child’ bride, Cio Cio San. The opera also now takes place just after World War 2 and makes, at times, quite uncomfortable viewing, given the current discussion about racial equality.

Joshua Guerrero is a suave, seductive, believable Pinkerton who acts and sings well, never overusing facial expression, which can be very irritating in close-up! It is a shame that after Act one, he has nothing to do until the very end of the opera.

Michael Sumuel is very successful in the thankless role of Sharpless, the American Consul. This is very difficult to bring off successfully: Puccini has him on stage for much of the opera, but for most of the time he does not sing but just has to act and react. Sumuel is very believable as the overweight middle-aged consul struggling up and down the hill to Butterfly’s house in order to bring her the bad news about Pinkerton that she does not want to hear.

Olga Busioc as Butterfly/Cio Cio San is also onstage for most of the opera. She sings powerfully but does not quite create the frailty or youth of the role, especially in close-up.

Suzuki, Butterfly’s maid, is beautifully acted and sung by Elizabeth Deshong. Her reactions are always subtle and convincing especially when Butterfly is at her most desperate.

The plethora of minor roles are all convincingly acted and sung, as one would expect at Glyndebourne, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Omer Meir Wellber emulates the ‘melodrama’ inherent in the opera by never holding back in the many emotional climaxes.

If you are not sure whether or not ‘streamed’ performances of opera, ballet etc are for you, you can try Marquee TV free for two weeks, or pay £4.99 for one week’s subscription.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this production of Madama Butterfly on a wet Saturday afternoon!

Recommended!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Glyndebourne’s Madama Butterfly, one of opera’s most enduring tales of unrequited love, on the platform. Puccini’s luscious score follows the tragic tale of Cio-Cio-San, who we witness as a young Japanese girl falling in love with American naval officer Pinkerton – with heart-breaking consequences.

Omer Meir Wellber conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra and The Glyndebourne Chorus, showering the audience in orchestral cherry blossom. Olga Busuioc portrays the title role with Joshua Guerrero starring as the object of her blind devotion. Directed by Annilese Miskimmon, now Artistic Director at the English National Opera, this “updated concept for Glyndebourne gives new layers of resonance without compromising the original’s spirit” (BBC Music Magazine).
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Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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