Saturday, 1 April 2017
Giacomo Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" is - according to the Operabase rankings - the sixth most popular opera in the world. The Italian composer's reworking of the story, which concerns a tragic and short-lived marriage between an impressionable young Japanese girl and a US naval officer stationed in Nagasaki, debuted in Milan in 1904, to mostly negative reviews (like a lot of achievements now regarded as classics). Puccini took the criticism extremely personally, and allegedly didn't leave his house for 2 weeks; it would also be several years before he wrote his next opera, 1910's "La fanciulla del West". But he did at least devote his time to revising "Madama Butterfly" - streamlining it, making it more accessible and giving his audience only the bare essentials. What remains is - as much as one can say this about an opera with three acts, lasting two and a half hours - a lean, tautly focussed work, with minimal digression or interruption. The action is all of a piece; there are no subplots. The setting remains the same throughout, and is itself a very confined space: a single room in an apartment in Nagasaki. The storyline is almost childishly easy to follow... which is perhaps why it is so devastatingly effective. The Royal Opera House's 2017 production, starring Ermonela Jaho as the eponymous Madame Butterfly, Cio-cio-San, displays this almost ruthless sense of focus to its fullest extent, leaving the audience in a state of almost overwhelming emotional intensity.