Hit "Butterfly" gets loving touch in vital ENO revival

Fri Oct 25, 2013 8:13am EDT
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By Karin Strohecker

LONDON (Reuters) - This production of Giacomo Puccini's tear-jerker "Madam Butterfly" has seen it all: Standing ovations, critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, an Olivier award - and that was before the curtain went up.

The late film director Anthony Minghella's staging of one of Puccini's most popular operas, with its lush tunes and sad tale of loyal love spurned, is back at the English National Opera this month, its fifth revival and sixth run at the ENO.

London's second opera company, which is rebounding from a huge deficit in the 2011-2012 season, is counting on popular productions like this to fill seats and carry the can for more esoteric offerings.

"It is important that the core repertoire pieces like the 'Madam Butterfly', like a recent 'Carmen' we did with Calixto Bieito, a great 'Tosca' - that we can bring these pieces out," ENO Artistic Director John Berry told Reuters.

In Minghella's "Butterfly" it has exactly that. The tale of a tragic liaison between a Japanese woman and the American naval officer Pinkerton that produces a child and her suicide has been a staple of opera houses around the globe since its premiere in 1904.

Yet it was the Oscar-winning Minghella's first foray into opera which delivered one of the most acclaimed productions in recent history, staged not only in London but also at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and seen by thousands more around the globe thanks to live broadcasts and a DVD release.

The stunning opening of Minghella's production - a silent dance, sumptuous movements and vivid colors - boldly claims center space for visuals. In the interval, discussions revolve around the beautiful lighting and riots of color on stage.

Minghella, who won an Oscar for "The English Patient", died unexpectedly in March 2008, while his production has lived on. But how do you handle such a priceless gem?   Continued...