This visually stunning incarnation of Anthony Minghella's production, touchingly revived by Sarah Tipple, makes this opera a must-see even, dare I say it, if you are not such an opera fan. This Butterfly will convert you with its arresting sets, acid-coloured costumes, stunning lighting effects, beautiful choreography and the touching use of puppetry for Butterfly's child.
This is what the ENO does best: creating a visual feast encompassing layers of dance, drama and innovative staging which evolves into something more than opera.
The women are strongly cast with the American-Russian soprano Dina Kuznetsova in the title role. Her voice is rich and full and she confidently yet calmly undertakes this mammoth role without strain or force. Top marks to her also for the best diction of the cast. Kuznetsova was wonderfully supported by mezzo Pamela Helen Stephen, whose resonant tone and perfectly-timed drama compliments this fragile, na’ve Butterfly.
This is an opera I know inside out having sung the role more than seventy times. Minghella's take on the opera may be a little austere and Butterfly rather restrained but it certainly works for me, especially when you hear Kuznetsova's illustrious tone. It also brings out the foreboding undercurrents as they are given space to resonate.
There was also an angle I had never experienced before apparent at the dawn chorus and in the letter scene with Sharpless: Butterfly's underlying knowledge that Pinkerton is really not coming back for her. She knows it and that gives us a more complex figure who tries to delay her return to life as a lowly geisha.
Timothy Richards' Pinkerton was nicely sung – he has a lovely rich mellow sound – but slightly lacks that Italian sguillo needed in a role like this; perhaps it could be the fact that it's in English – It's a devil of a language to sing in and I wonder if one day the ENO may ever consider doing grand Italian opera in Italian now we have surtitles (Puccini in particular just doesn't cut it for me in English).
George von Bergen's Sharpless was full of character and well delivered and there was a lovely vocal surprise in the mezzo Catherine Young as Kate Pinkerton; what a lovely sound. I really do hope we will get to hear more of her in the future.
I'm pleased Butterfly is packed out, particularly as this is Gianluca Marciano's debut conducting at the ENO. I hope we get to see more of him too; he is obviously a hit with the orchestra – his sweeping buoyancy gave the orchestra really bright Italian sound.
A special mention must go to the Blind Summit Theatre for the puppetry of Butterfly's child, drawn from traditional Japanese Bunraku, which brought this puppet to life; the puppet was actually breathing and many of its touching gestures towards its mother brought a tear to my eye. It was like War Horse all over again.
Madame Butterfly is on until Sunday 1 December