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Madama Butterfly review at Glyndebourne, Lewes – ‘excellent performances’

Scene from Madama Butterfly at Glyndebourne, Lewes. Photo: Robbie Jack
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This is the first time that Madama Butterfly has emerged from her chrysalis at Glyndebourne’s summer festival, though the company first toured Annilese Miskimmon’s production in late 2016.

Updated to the 1950s, it starts off unconventionally. Act I takes place not in the hilltop house that Lieutenant Pinkerton has leased in Nagasaki, but in the offices of the marriage broker Goro, a consummate salesman who uses a cine film to teach young Japanese women about the American way. The filing cabinets compromise the sensuousness of the love duet, but they remind us that – for the groom, at least – the Pinkerton-Butterfly marriage is merely a transaction.

Subsequently, the staging strives for few innovations, though its wholesale westernisation of Butterfly herself reduces the sense of culture clash. When she finally leaves the stage to prepare for suicide and re-enters in a simple white kimono, the effect is almost shocking.

Olga Busuioc brings gravitas to Butterfly from the first moment – serious and thoughtful, never a fragile flower, and not quite heartbreaking. From Moldova, she has one of those voices that is richly grained throughout its range. As Pinkerton, Joshua Guerrero cannot match her for expansive tone, but he offers captivating Italianate style and verbal acuity.

Elizabeth DeShong, sounding darkly sumptuous, is a Suzuki to be reckoned with and Michael Sumuel, glowing of voice, makes a generous and unusually assertive Sharpless. Carlo Bosi is both elegant and oleaginous as Goro.

Omer Meir Wellber’s conducting favours lucidity and pace in Act I before achieving moments of almost Wagnerian solemnity as the situation becomes more desperate. The London Philharmonic sounds glorious.

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Annilese Miskimmon’s relatively straightforward staging accommodates excellent performances