When Graeme Murphy first unveiled his new vision of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in 2019 it left audiences breathless. That may be because it was so radically different to the production that had prevaled for the previous 20 years, or because the smorgasbord of cultural and creative ideas on stage was overwhelming. The critiques ranged from “brilliant” to “abomination”. This reprised production somehow doesn’t feel as cluttered and confronting, although the metaphors still suffers from a lack of subtlety.
The image used in the marketing materials is taken from the opening scene in which a large, web-like structure made from red velvet rope descends from above. At the centre, trapped like a butterfly in a web, is a woman. Near naked woman are scattered around the stage, bound with the same red velvet rope in the style of shibari – Japanese rope bondage.
In another scene, a dancer dressed as a butterfly appears, literally pinned onto a wall like a captured specimen. The Bonze comes on wearing a large origami bird costume and there are girls in cutesy harajuku fashion in one scene.
There’s a lot of American referencing too, with the stars and stripes frequently adorning the stage and a very conspicuous nod the a famous first lady’s pink Chanel suit.
The set consists of a series of moveable suspended walls onto which various colours and images are projected. The centre stage is elevated and surround by what looks like serrated edging. It is also very slightly sloped towards the audience. When the set is lit subtly, with no projections or other extraneous detail, the minimalism allows focus on the powerful story and extraordinary performances. This is pretty much how Act II plays out and it is very moving and very absorbing.
Sae Kyung Rim is stunning as Cio-Cio-San, with a vocal performance that at once delivers naïvety, despair, insolence, and pure-hearted love. Sian Sharp draws a multitude of emotions out of the devoted Suzuki. Diego Torre’s returns to this production as the spineless Pinkerton and Vergilio Marino is deliciously villainous as the slimy, nasty Goro.
It’s the second act of this production that really stands out. It has some very beautiful moments, which, depending on your view, are either enhanced or diminished by the relentless digital projections.