Butterfly revived at Coliseum

  • Opera & Dance
Butterfly revived at Coliseum


Tue, 24/05/2016 - 12:12


Rena Hams in ENO’s Madam Butterfly. Photo: Tom Bowles
Rena Hams in ENO’s Madam Butterfly. Photo: Tom Bowles
19 May, 2016

STILL as ravishing as ever, Anthony Minghella’s staging of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly is back at English National Opera for the sixth time.

Visually, it’s still wonderful from the outset when the stage turns red as the sun rises, a shimmering floor reflects the actors and falling cherry blossom gives the feel of passing spring.

Revival directors have helped to sharpen the emotional intensity to a stage where it’s almost unbearable. Previously, the use of a puppet to portray Cio-Cio-San’s son was quite laughable. Now, the puppet is slightly bigger and puppeteers do their job so well it’s surprisingly believable when the son is taken into his mother’s arms.

It’s a shame, then, that the musical side of things is not quite as impressive this time round. American soprano Rena Hams makes for a delicate, waif-of-a-geisha Cio-Cio-San. But her voice lacks the power to tingle the spine in her big Act Two solo expressing her conviction that beloved husband will return and again as she turns to take her life.

On the other hand, British tenor David Butt Philip is an excellent FB Pinkerton, the happy-go-lucky US navy lieutenant out for his bit on the side while his ship is in Naga­saki. He’s returning to ENO after making a strong impression as Rodolfo in last year’s infamous “heroin” La Boheme.

While conductor Sir Richard Armstrong delivers a workmanlike reading of the score, it’s one that lacks the Puccini zest and frisson needed to support the singers.

• Madam Butterfly is at the London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2, in 15 more performances to July 7, 020 7845 9300, www.eno.org

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