Butterfly in the 1950s

My quest to find a production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly that has anything insightful to say about the piece continues.  This time it’s the 2018 production from Glyndebourne directed by Annilese Miskimmon.  I was interested to see how a female director would treat the obvious problems with the piece.  Miskimmon’s solution is to shift the setting to early 1950s Nagasaki and to treat Butterfly as one of many real and fake war brides.  Apparently there was a thriving fake war bride business at the time.  The obvious problem of a Nagasaki setting is just ignored.


So, we open in Goro’s office where various American enlisted personnel are picking up their brides and schoolgirls are watching an instructional film on “How to be an American Wife”.  The war bride theme is reinforced at the beginning of each act with black and white footage showing war brides or offering instruction to war brides.  Other than that it’s just a straightforward Butterfly.  The context change doesn’t, for me, make the piece any less problematic.  In fact moving it to a more realistic setting rather compounds the problems.  It’s hard to dismiss the paedophilia/sex tourism issues by saying that was just Puccini’s sloppy failure to do any research when a piece is as carefully constructed as this production.


So, apart from that, how was the opera Mrs. Pinkerton?  It’s well sung and acted.  All the principals are well up to their roles.  Olga Busuioc is a decent actress and she sings Butterfly’s big numbers with a full but sweet tone.  Joshua Guerrero is a proper Puccini tenor with ringing high notes and some swagger.  Liz DeShong is a most sympathetic Suzuki.  I guess she’s become something of a specialist in this role.  Michael Sumuel is a solid Sharpless with decent acting to back up the voice.  The minor characters are fine too and the Glyndebourne chorus is as good as ever.  The London Philharmonic is in the pit and Omer Meir Wellber produces a clean, unhistrionic account of the score.  Bottom line it’s just fine musically.


François Roussillon directs for video.  It’s not a difficult production to film and he just lets it be.  Sound (DTS-HD-MA and LPCM stereo) and video quality are just fine on Blu-ray.  It’s quite dark in places though so the DVD version may have definition issues.  There are some interviews offered as a bonus on the disk and there’s an essay by the director in the booklet along with a synopsis.  I didn’t find that they added much to my understanding.  Subtitle options are English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.


For the person who wants an essentially straightforward, well sung Madama Butterfly on Blu-ray this fits the bill.  Don’t expect any new insights though.


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