But it was this dedicated star's purer-than-pure singing, the ideal voice for this initially delicate but fast-growing character, that drew a packed house and cinema live-relay cameras to Covent Garden on the night Culture Whisper attended. The vast, nationwide audience that resulted will have thrilled to the vast range of drama both physical and musical.
The Japanese teen bride, toyed into marriage by a passing US naval officer, takes her vows deadly seriously, literally, while her callow husband leases both her and the paper house on contracts with a one-month break clause. From her childlike first entry to her courageous, grown-woman exit, Jaho's Butterfly spreads her wings in sound, first pale and slight, later magnificent and richly hued. The high G-flat that opens the famous 'One fine day' aria, 'Un bel di vedremo', is like a silken thread.
Argentinian tenor Marcelo Puente, making his house debut, is a plausibly immature Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, sailing aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln – Puccini's concept of the US was nothing if not presidential. The beard gives him the appearance of years that his hapless behaviour belies, and Puente's trivial character turns into one who experiences true remorse. The trio for Pinkerton, feeble consul Sharpless (Scott Hendricks) and faithful housekeeper Suzuki (a marvellous Elizabeth Deshong) is a breathtaking high spot.
First staged in 2003, this Madama Butterfly is the work of the directorial team Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, who have collaborated for more than 30 years. Like all good things, it seems to have improved with age, become less strident in colour, and it is powerfully conducted by Antonio Pappano, who draws from an orchestra on top form the base notes of Wagner and Verdi that hum beneath the floreate top line.
In smaller roles, Yuriy Yurchuk, who seems to be worn by his ceremonial clothes, rather than vice versa (costumes by Agostino Cavalca), provides light relief as the much-divorced suitor Prince Yamadori, and Jeremy White chills the blood as a deathly white angry uncle priest, the Bonze. Rising star Gyula Nagy is as impressive as ever as the imperial commissioner.
In later performances, Ana María Martínez, a Covent Garden favourite since her 2002 debut as Donna Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni, and previous Violetta in La Traviata, takes on the role of Cio-Cio-San, with the Romanian Teodor Ilincai, whose roles for Covent Garden include Rodolfo in La Bohème, as Pinkerton. Christian Fenouillat's sliding panel set and Christophe Forey's soulful lighting conjure up Nagasaki harbour, cherry blossom time and the Pacific.
It was here in London that Puccini, who enjoyed the lively life and shopping in the capital on a visit in 1900, saw David Belasco’s play Madame Butterfly, itself based on a short story. The composer enlisted the librettists for his already successful operas La Bohème and Tosca to adapt for the operatic stage the story of Cio-Cio-San’s crushing humiliation. Today one of the most performed works in the repertoire, it is hard to be believe that the first performance of the opera at La Scala, Milan, went down badly. Revised, it went on to become one of Puccini's most popular works.
Performances this good show why, and a Butterfly as rare as Emanelo Jaho is a precious thing indeed.
|Madama Butterfly review, Royal Opera House
|Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP
|Covent Garden (underground)
23 Mar 17 – 25 Apr 17, 11 performances; times vary
|£5 - £180
|Click here to book via Culture Whisper and See Tickets