Madame Butterfly has always been a little bit special for me. It was the first opera I bought on CD and the first one I saw performed. I’ve seen it a few times since and every time its managed to wring a couple of tears from me, in fact I’m sure that provided you don’t mess about with the formula too much its pretty much impossible to get wrong.
Last night was the first time I’ve wept buckets though – and all because of the inclusion of two very simple scenes at the beginning and end.
Even before the overture there were people on stage. Butterfly sat alone in a non-descript dressing room as a number of girls in modern dress made themselves up. She leafed slowly through a copy of Vogue – everyone braces themselves for a modern interpretation.
There then follows the most traditional of traditional performances, although there is one slight change that is only noticeable in retrospect – the Marriage Broker’s dress becomes steadily more and more modern. Its so subtle that you don’t notice it until the end.
And what an end – yes, Butterfly kills herself and Pinkerton (more predatory and creepy than normal) finds her, but after he flees two more people witness the body. One staggers one of the girls from before the overture as the lights fade, slurping from a McDonalds coke before being pushed away by the Marriage Broker / Pimp, Butterfly is another anonymous girl left dead in an alley.
It was then that I realised that this is the first production I’d seen which was explicit about the fact that Butterfly was fifteen when she is sold off by a man who treats her as a slave.
Like I said, buckets.