Madama Butterfly Royal Opera House, 25 June 2011
And then you remember Madama Butterfly.
Puccini of course distances himself from Pinkerton's treatment of the 15 year old Butterfly via the disapproving Sharpless. But it's still disturbing to think that what would be considered child molestation in some countries and statutory rape in others is re-labelled as entertainment once it hits the opera house. With the lead role inevitably taken by a mature soprano, the issues are blurred still further.
For a modern audience to weight its implications, this is one 'traditional' opera that really does need an update to the contemporary world of sex tourism and child trafficking. Of course, Covent Garden being Covent Garden, what we get instead is heritage Japonaiserie - cherry blossom on the tatami and kimonos flapping in the breeze - simultaneously bland and distasteful.
On Saturday night Andris Nelsons teased some clean, well-balanced playing from the pit. But it's his Mrs, Kristine Opolais, in her Covent Garden debut, who is the main reason to catch this revival. She makes a formidable Cio-Cio San, with a voice of toughened steel and seemingly endless stamina that seems ultimately destined for heavier repertory.
Helene Schneiderman's Suzuki almost matched her, but the rest of the cast varied from the sterling (the likes of Anthony Michaels-Moore, Robin Leggate and Jeremy White) to the downright disappointing (James Valenti, whose miniscule voice is inversely proportional to his height). I'm not at all sure whether the few scattered boos for his Pinkerton were of the panto variety.
production photos (above): Mike Hoban/Royal Opera House
curtain call photos (below): intermezzo.typepad.com