Puccini’s iconic opera
Rarely is it possible to see opera at such close range, the movements and emotions of the characters visible so clearly as they are only a few feet away.
In Royal Opera House staff director Julia Burbach’s darkly re-imagined version the Arcola’s large studio 1 is transformed into a squalid den littered with paper lanterns, candles, origami cranes and chalk drawings all over the walls and stairs. Butterfly (Natash Jouhl) is dressed in a tattered white gown spattered with blood and moves through the opening sequences of the opera unseen, a shadow haunting the conversations between B.F. Pinkerton (Thomas Atkins) and Sharpless (Gareth Brynmore John) as they light-heartedly discuss how the American captain Pinkerton will seduce the 15 year old Japanese Geisha, Butterfly.
Puccini’s music and the virtuosity of the opera singers in this production are combined with an innovative immersive set and arrangement that draws on Japanese folkloric ghost stories. Stripped of the usual pomp of a full blown opera with elaborate scenes, full orchestra and proscenium arch splendour the experience is entirely different to the more traditional operatic spectacle. Rarely is it possible to see opera at such close range, the movements and emotions of the characters visible so clearly as they are only a few feet away.
This both increases and diminishes the impact of the music. In the first act, where the dark story is slowly built up, the scene set for Butterfly’s tragic downfall it is a huge advantage to be this close to the action, the love scene between Butterfly and Pinkerton perfectly suited to such an intimate setting. In the second act, the power of Jouhl’s jaw-dropping solos, searing with the pain of Butterfly’s heartbreak, are slightly lost in a space that isn’t big enough to contain them.
Supported by an off stage chorus and accompanied only by a piano the cast flawlessly pull off a hugely difficult task, the production a shining example of how opera can be adapted in an informal and accessible setting.