Review – Madam Butterfly, English National Opera

So, off to the Coliseum to brave baking June temperatures and programmes full of private school adverts, all in the name of Puccini. This production is the first London revival of the famous 2005 production by Anthony Minghella, and the work has lost little since then.

It is, in short, one of the most beautifully designed and directed works one can imagine for the stage. A shifting background of sliding screens serves to frame the performances, and allows for almost filmic shifts of scene as performers appear of disappear from view (although not from the balcony, where you can see bloody everything). Every moment seems to have been seen through a designers eye, with numerous piercingly beautiful moments, most notably Butterfly’s suicide, in which her red kimono spreads across the length and breadth of the raked stage.

Against all this, the music and the performances seem almost an afterthought. There are strong performances, most notably from Judith Howard as the eponym and Brian Mulligan as the Consul, but they all seem staged, a little cold. It’s as if the entire production has been subsumed by the design, as if the main focus of the performers is to, puppetlike, facilitate whatever piece of theatrical magic is about to occur. While the various coups de theatre are certainly impressive, this production would do better to trust its cast – and Puccini’s music – to do more of the work.

Oh, and it’s sung in English, which makes it sound ridiculous.