Film director Anthony Minghella had already scored a big hit with The English Patient in 1996 when he began work on Puccini's opera, and he was to bring to it the same unashamed love of romance and of sheer visual beauty that runs through both.
With the help of Blind Summit Puppetry he created a remarkable little boy for the tragic heroine of the title, and to this day, 15 years after the first ENO performance of this production, the portrayal of the toddler, named Sorrow, is a heartbreaking illusion.
Natalya Romaniw sings the title role in Madam Butterfly. Photo: Patrick Allen
A very promising cast for this revival is headed by the Welsh-born soprano Natalya Romaniw, already a massive favourite with audiences at ENO, Opera Holland Park and Garsington, where she sang the role of love-sick Tatyana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. Joining her in Butterfly is her Onegin, baritone Roderick Williams. He plays Sharpless, the weak friend of Butterfly's American officer husband.
The marriage comes about when the officer, Pinkerton, in port in Nagasaki, takes a fancy to the idea of marrying a local girl. Butterfly – Cio-Cio San – takes the marriage seriously, and although years pass without the officer's return from the seas, she waits patiently for him. But his final reappearance is not the joyful reunion she imagines.
Singing Pinkerton are the tenors Dimitri Pittas, from the Us, and Adam Smith, the British singer married to soprano Corinne Winters. Winters sings the title role in Dvorak's Rusalka at English National Opera in March.
Baritone Roderick Williams sings the aptly named Sharpless
With sets by Michael Levine, costumes by Han Feng, choreography by Minghella's wife Carolyn Choa and lighting by Peter Mumford, this Madam Butterfly has as many wonderful visual effects as poignant melodies.
A co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York and Lithuanian National Opera, Minghella's Butterfly is a both a wonderful way to start a new opera-going life and home from home for established opera fans.
Madam Butterfly is sung in English with English surtitles. Performances are on 26, 29 Feb; 5, 7, 11, 13,20, 27, 30 March; 4, 7, 14 April. There is a pre-performance talk on 11 March
|What||Madam Butterfly, English National Opera|
|Where||English National Opera, London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4ES | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
26 Feb 20 – 17 Apr 20, 12 performances, times vary. Running time: 2hr 50min
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|