music by Giacomo Puccini libretto by Luigi Illica & Giuseppe Giacosa English adaptation by Andrew Charity & Steve Tiller.
Limehouse Town Hall 646 Commercial Road E14 7HA To 20 October 2012.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7478 0100.
Review: Francis Grin 10 October.
Puccini’s opera re-vamped for good and ill.
As the Limehouse Town Hall opens for its performance of Finding Butterfly, the audience enter a sterile room with hospital equipment and murky windows. It’s not a warm space, nor is this story, as a son re-imagines the violent betrayal leading to his mother’s suicide.
Giacomo Puccini’s 1904 opera, Madama Butterfly tells of a Japanese Geisha who falls in love and marries US Naval officer Pinkerton, only to be subsequently abandoned by him. When Pinkerton discovers Butterfly gave birth to his son, he returns with his American wife to collect the boy, stripping Butterfly of everything she loves and driving her to suicide.
In Andrew Charity and Steve Tiller’s adaptation, Butterfly’s son Pinkerton Jr, returns to Nagasaki after his mother’s death to re-imagine what happened; Butterfly here waiting not in a house but a mental institution.
On one level, the opera is modernized through the exploration of Butterfly’s psychological torment. Yet the mental institution changes the moral perspective, detaching us from Butterfly, whose viewpoint becomes less reliable, towards Pinkerton, now apparently the more suitable parent.
The meshing of Puccini’s music with new sections introduces the perspective of Butterfly’s son. Yet the new music sometimes falls short of the power in Puccini’s score.
Zahra Mansouri’s design creates a haunting space, capturing Butterfly’s torment. In its limbo-like, white, sterile emptiness, patients neither enter nor exit, they simply stay, an effect diminished when the chorus enters zombie-like with bloodied bandages and eye-patches. This chorus, eventually losing the bandages, hang around throughout, often distractingly cluttering the stage with superfluous activity.
The hit-and-miss production includes a non-sensuous love-making scene between Butterfly and Pinkerton, where Butterfly re-imagines her wedding night. Pinkerton awkwardly stands on the bed in white boxers and undershirt, waiting for her. Singers Joe Morgan (Pinkerton) and Li Li (Butterfly) have excellent voices which, unfortunately, don’t merge entirely harmonious. To top it off, Butterfly’s son (who is imagining this) has his head turned back in shame throughout the scene.
Still, this is a brave concept from The Wedding Collective, who, often working with migrants and asylum-seekers, tackle themes of social conflict and ‘the Other’.
Cio Cio San (Butterfly): Li Li/Can Xie.
Suzuki/Old Suzuki: Latana Phoung/Megumi Shiozaki.
Pinkerton Jr.: Nicholas Delvalle.
Benjiro/ Pinkerton: Joe Morgan.
Dr.Shinigi: Attila Mokus.
Goro: Patrick Aschrof.
Yamadori/Bonze: Xiaoran Wang.
Kate Pinkerton: Jessica Costelloe.
Chorus: Kathleen Ackerman, Inti Conde, Maddalena Ghezzi, Christopher Jamieson, Natasha Lisk, Jacqueline Lwanzo, Lance Paine, Beatrice Tubahurira, Francesca Zoppi.
Conductor/Piano: Andrew Charity.
Director: Steve Tiller.
Designer/Costume: Zahra Mansouri.
Lighting: Pablo Baz.
Musical Director: Andrew Charity.
Chorus Music Director: Naveen Arles.
Associate Musical director: Michalis Angelakis.