The director of The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley, Anthony Minghella directed just one opera, this Madam Butterfly for English National Opera, which now receives its seventh revival.
Its novel use of bunraku-style puppeteers still impresses. Puppeteers in jet-black magically animate not only lanterns and birds but also, in a poignant coup de theatre, Butterfly’s little toddler, Sorrow. There’s also a dream sequence in which a puppet Butterfly, with a male dancer, enacts her story of love, abandonment and death. The artistry of the puppet masters continues to beguile, but the bright modern patterns on the Han Feng-designed kimonos now seem gaudy and the overhead mirror still fails to reveal an illuminating angle.
Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw’s Butterfly and American tenor Dimitri Pittas are bigger let downs; neither of them are clearly characterised. There is little sense of her innocence and blind loyalty, and though he has abandoned his bride, returned to America and remarried, it is Pinkerton who somehow appears the naïve passer-by.
Romaniw sings well even if a lighter tone might better suit the role, while Pittas labours in his upper range so that passages that should be soaring and thrilling are in fact tiring to the ear. Roderick Williams is the draw vocally, even if the role of the US Consul, Sharpless, gives him little to play with, and other than in the Act II Intermezzo, the orchestra under Martyn Brabbins fails to convey the searing colours of the score.