Royal Opera House Announces New Approach to ‘Madama Butterfly’

By Francisco Salazar

The Royal Opera House has announced a new approach to its presentation of “Madama Butterfly.”

In a press release, the company said, “the Royal Opera House revives Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2002 production, taking a new approach to this much-loved production.”

The company added, “For this revival, The Royal Opera embarked on a year-long consultation, listening to new voices to present a staging that reflects the original director’s intentions, but that also respects Japanese culture. ‘Madama Butterfly’ has been performed by The Royal Opera 416 times, making it the ninth most-performed work in the Company’s repertoire. From its first outing at Covent Garden in 1905, a year after its premiere at La Scala in Milan, Puccini’s enduring tale has captivated audiences, remaining one of the most popular Italian operas today. This revival will be performed by two outstanding casts. The role of Cio-Cio-San will be performed by Lianna Haroutounian and Eri Nakamura, and Kseniia Nikolaieva and Patricia Bardon will share the role of Suzuki. Dan Ettinger will conduct.”

The director of the Royal Opera Oliver Mears said, “Puccini’s opera is a masterpiece. However, it is also a product of its time. For this revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s classic production, we wanted to interrogate the depiction of Japanese culture in the staging of this work and involve Japanese practitioners and academics to help us work towards a Butterfly both true to the spirit of the original, and authentic in its representation of Japan.”

According to the company, the year-long consultation involved staff at the Royal Opera House, academics, practitioners, performers, and Asian representatives. The conversations inspired discrete but important changes to several aspects of the existing staging, including makeup, wigs and costume, and movement.

The revival director Dan Dooner and Covent Garden teams worked with experts in Japanese movement and design: Sonoko Kamimura, Etsuko Handa, and June Iyeda.

Movement Consultant Sonoko Kamimura who helped revise movements said, “When I begin working on a production there is always a lot to consider: how the costumes will restrict the performer; and how the work can best reflect the world it is depicting. For this production, we focused on refining posture and adjusting placement in particular – making sure, for instance, that Suzuki’s left hand always settles on top of her right; or that Cio-Cio-San’s gestures reflect the character’s upbringing. By making tiny changes to the ways in which singers express their emotions through music, we can create something more authentic – less prone to stereotypes, and more attuned to the historical context of the story.”

“Madama Butterfly” opens on June 14 and will be supported by a free exhibition in the Royal Opera House’s Level 5 Foyer, curated by its Learning and Participation team in consultation with Dr Satona Suzuki, Lecturer in Japanese and Modern Japanese History at SOAS, and writer and broadcaster Dr Flora Willson. The display will seek to explore and contextualize the complicated history and context of the piece, addressing issues that include stereotyping and imperialism.