Introducing... Madama Butterfly

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In the final article in our Introducing… series we are looking at the Festival debut of Puccini’s world-renowned Madama Butterfly.

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In this short film, set and costume designer Nicky Shaw talks about the production’s innovative staging of this tragic tale.

Need to know

Puccini’s own favourite opera, Madama Butterfly is the story of an innocent Japanese girl deceived and abandoned by the American officer she loves. A plot that sounds sordid in synopsis is transformed by the sensitivity and generosity of Puccini’s gorgeous, East-meets-West score into something dignified and beautiful. Psychology and symbolism come together in an ending as heartbreaking as any in all opera.

When the beautiful teenage geisha Cio-Cio-San agrees to marry dashing naval officer Lieutenant Pinkerton she sees a long and happy future ahead. Pinkerton, by contrast, sees only the short-term gratification of his desires. Abandoned, Butterfly’s love is tested to its limits, but when Pinkerton finally returns it’s not for love, but to demand one final sacrifice from Butterfly. She will give it – but at what cost?

At the heart of the opera is Butterfly’s exquisite aria ‘Un bel dì’. Against all the odds, she imagines the return of Pinkerton – the final, longed-for chapter in her love-story. So powerful is her faith, her hope, that she draws the listener along with her in her fantasy, convinced for one beautiful moment that a happy ending is still possible.

Why this opera?

This will be the first time that Madama Butterfly is performed at Glyndebourne Festival, in a production that was premiered in the Tour in 2016.

The intimacy and glorious acoustic of the Glyndebourne theatre will endow Puccini’s classic score with new colour and clarity, its drama with powerful immediacy.

Praised by critics as a ‘thoughtful, provocative staging’ and a ‘scathing study of exploitation’, Annilese Miskimmon’s production updates the action to the 1950s. This post-war setting brings to the fore the darker elements of Puccini’s story, drawing our attention to the thousands of Butterflies who still hope and dream and despair in our own age. Little wonder that the opera has inspired numerous contemporary adaptations and reimaginings, including the hit musical Miss Saigon.

Our Madama Butterfly podcast Katie Derham presents an in-depth look at the music and history of the opera:

Cast and creative team

Praised for the ‘energy and passion’ of his Eugene Onegin in 2014 for the Glyndebourne Tour, rising young Israeli conductor Omer Meir Wellber will conduct this first revival of Madama Butterfly. He’s joined by the production’s original director, Annilese Miskimmon, who returns to direct the production’s Festival debut.

Already making waves in Europe and North America, Moldovan soprano Olga Busuioc will be in the title role, with exciting American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong as her faithful maid and companion Suzuki, and award-winning young American tenor Joshua Guerrero as Pinkerton.

The supporting cast includes Michael Sumuel as Sharpless, Szymon Mechlinski as Yamadori and Carlo Bosi as Goro.

Things to look out for

The backdrop of cherry trees laden with blossom, in front of which Butterfly and Pinkerton proclaim their love, is here conveyed by lavish, carved, maple-wood fretwork that surrounds three sides of the stage.

Madama Butterfly is on stage at Festival 2018 from 19 May – 18 July

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Madama Butterfly is supported by Christopher