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Madama Butterfly review at Glyndebourne – ‘immensely rewarding’

Karah Son in Madama Butterfly at Glyndebourne. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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It seems strange that Glyndebourne has just got around to staging Puccini’s Japanese tragedy for the first time, but Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly for the autumn tour proves to be immensely rewarding.

The Belfast-born director’s work is increasingly admired for her perception and sheer stagecraft, and this show is no exception. She updates the action to the 1950s, also taking the controversial decision to set the first act in Goro’s Marriage Bureau in downtown Nagasaki, a location which in Nicky Shaw’s designs suggests absolute efficiency and an air of sleaziness simultaneously; but when Butterfly shows Pinkerton the film Yankees Wed Japanese Maidens during the love duet, the effect is bathetic. Here the music really does tell us everything we need to know.

Elsewhere, one can have few reservations about a production that explores text and music both seriously and sensitively. Puccini and his skilful librettists may do much of the work for you, but Miskimmon and an excellent cast ensure that the emotional impact of the piece is devastating.

Korean soprano Karah Son is a tireless exponent of the demanding title role, her traversal of the character’s journey from trust to betrayal and suicide painfully convincing. An Italian tenor of genuine allure and expressive resource, Matteo Lippi makes Pinkerton’s irresponsibility wholly credible. Francesco Verna is a poignantly ineffectual Sharpless. Claudia Huckle’s rich contralto gives her Suzuki vocal depth to match her portrayal’s compassion.

Standouts in smaller roles include Michael Druiett’s imposing Bonze, rising threateningly from his wheelchair to denounce the apostate Butterfly, Marta Fontanals-Simmons’ terrifyingly cold trophy wife Kate Pinkerton, Alun Rhys-Jenkins’s cynical Goro, and Adam Marsden’s warmly sympathetic Yamadori.

In the pit the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra excels itself under conductor John Wilson, who highlights the subtle colouring and dramatic momentum of Puccini’s luscious score.

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Annilese Miskimmon stages Glyndebourne’s powerful first ever Butterfly