Butterfly at the Coliseum

The tower of the London Coliseum dominates St. Martin's Lane and the surrounding area: the theatre was, improbably, built as a music-hall - the auditorium is huge and doesn't seem at all suitable for this. It was subsequently a theatre for musicals, a Cinerama cinema, an ordinary cinema, and finally (and most suitably) became the home of the English National Opera, who perform in English. (The photo was taken in May 1969, shortly after the ENO moved there under its previous name of Sadler's Wells Opera). A few years ago it was refurbished, including air-conditioning in the auditorium - something I was glad of yesterday evening, given the current heat-wave.

I was there to see a revival of the late Anthony Minghella's production of Puccini's Madam Butterfly. One of the most famous of all operas, it tells the story - loosely based on fact - of a American sailor, Pinkerton, stationed in Nagasaki, who enters into a contractual 'marriage' with a young Geisha. Though he is affectionate to her, he makes no bones to the American Consul that he regards this as temporary and will eventually marry a 'real' American wife. Nowadays he would be called a sex tourist: and worse, considering that his 'wife', Butterfly, is fifteen. Tragically, she falls in love with him, and when he is reposted to America seriously thinks he loves her and will return. Of course, when he does, he has an American wife and Butterfly has his child. Devastated by his abandonment, she commits suicide.

Many productions glamourise Pinkerton, and gloss over his behaviour: here, in a good if slightly strained-sounding performance by Bryan Hymel his callousness came over well, together with his apparent (though probably temporary) remorse at the end. Judith Howarth gave an affecting and convincing performance as Butterfly. The production is visually striking, with the use of black-clad and veiled dancers to move sliding panels: and Butterfly's young child of three is unusually represented by a puppet in the Japanese manner, with three operators holding it - they are clad in black and in Japanese puppet theatre the convention is that they are invisible. The puppet gives a much better and heart-rending performance than the usual bemused ten-year-old of most productions.

Occasionally the visual elements seemed a little intrusive - a mimed dream with a dancer as Pinkerton and another, small, puppet as Butterfly during the prelude to Act 2 scene 2 while Butterfly waits for Pinkerton to arrive: but on the whole they add to and don't clash with the spirit of the opera.

Posted: Thu - July 2, 2009 at 02:44 PM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM