One of the most beloved operas of all time, Madama Butterfly was born in an age when Europe was coming into closer contact with distant lands. Previously closed cultures like Japan fascinated westerners in ways that the Near East had fascinated their forebearers: the fascination portrayed in Madama Butterfly is a direct descendant of 17the century “Turkish Marches”, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, Pierre Loti’s Madame Chrysanthème (which heavily inspired Puccini), and Mascagni’s Iris. This universe at the crossroads of East and West is encapsulated well by the minimalist staging of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, which brings to mind traditional Japanese dwellings and waterways.
Like with La Fanciulla, Gianni Schicchi, and in particular Turandot, the success of a production of Madama Butterfly is heavily dependant on its protagonist: in this case, Cio-Cio-San, the young Japanese wife of the dashing American lieutenant Pinkerton. The Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho assumes this responsibility with great professionalism, giving an intimate and nuanced portrayal that concentrates all the opera’s dramatic intensity. Antonio Pappano, musical director of the Royal Opera House and celebrated Puccini specialist, leads the orchestra in a performance of rare expressivity.