The prospect of Natalya Romaniw making her role debut as Cio-Cio-san at English National Opera has given the latest revival of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madam Butterfly an added flutter. The Welsh soprano has been building an impressive career in bringing opera’s tragic women to life in a startlingly vivid way; the uniquely awful story of the heart-broken Japanese girl who commits ritual suicide – albeit inauthentically – was always likely to be movingly depicted in Romaniw’s hands and indeed this was an absolute triumph.
This is the third or fourth time I have seen Anthony Minghella's stunningly gorgeous production of Puccini's Madam Butterfly at the London Coliseum and in many ways it is the best. Revival director Glen Sheppard has made some delightful tweaks that make Minghella's vision even more effective and the title role is sung by Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw in gloriously impressive style.
With drama preceding the music striking up and a tightly choreographed curtain call at the end, film director Anthony Minghella’s visually stunning 2005 production of Madama Butterfly is unashamedly cinematographic in style. It is now on its seventh revival for English National Opera, but while the last three of these saw Sarah Tipple at the helm, the revival director on this occasion is Glen Sheppard and he makes the creation feel as fresh as ever.
"In the role of Butterfly, Hui He made a splendid entrance with Act one’s “ancora un passo,” flanked by her proceeding relatives and their eye-catching, traditional costumes. The soprano’s youthful tones carried wonderfully through the excited, legato phrases which blossomed into a soaring B-flat conclusion. Her infatuation lent itself to her flirtatious lines with Pinkerton, as she revealed her conversion to Christianity and willingness to leave her family, framing these as loving sacrifices. The character’s volatile emotions were expertly captured by Hui He throughout her time onstage, with her sensitivity to the words of others able to drive extended passages of suspicious or romantic fervor. This was powerfully heard in her Act two aria “Un bel di vedremo,” where her delicate passion quickly swept her up into a sonorous reverie, finishing as she demurred and closed the screen door as if to give herself a reprieve from the emotional excess. After the truth of Pinkerton’s return is made clear to her in Act three, Hui He’s utterly crushed lines were highly gripping as she readied for her suicide; her final aria “Tu? Tu? Piccolo iddio” was a thing of ruinous beauty as her grieving farewell to her child swelled to tremendous vocal heights."
Ana María Martínez artful restraint was matched by those around her, including the conductor Karel Mark Chichon, who made his company debut with a performance that kept the drama flowing inexorably forward.