Madama Butterfly – London, Royal Opera House

by Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924), opera in three acts, Italian libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica; premiered 17 February 1904 at La Scala, Milan

Directors: Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, Revival Directors: Daisy Evans and Cecilia Stinton, Set Designer: Christian Fenouillat, Costumer Designer: Agostino Cavalca, Lighting Designer: Christopher Forey

Royal Opera Chorus, Chorus Director: William Spaulding

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Conductor: Kevin John Edusei

Soloists: Asmik Grigorian (Cio-Cio-San), Joshua Guerrero (Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton), Lauri Vasar (Sharpless), Hongni Wu (Suzuki), Ya-Chung Huang (Goro), Jeremy White (The Bonze), Josef Jeongmeen Ahn (Prince Yamadori), Veena Akama-Makia (Kate Pinkerton), Romanas Kudriašovas (Imperial Commissioner), and others.

Performance attended: 14 March 2024 (premiere)

Summary of the action

In 1904, fifteen-year-old Japanese geisha Cio-Cio-San, or ‘Butterfly’, is married to American naval officer Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton. Butterfly believes that this will be a marriage for life and secretly converts to Christianity out of love for her husband. For Pinkerton, by contrast, this is a marriage for convenience, to be abandoned as soon as he can find an American wife. Butterfly’s Uncle, The Bonze, attends their wedding, reveals and denounces Butterfly’s conversion, leading to Butterfly’s rejection by her family, friends, and community.

Three years pass, and it is revealed that Pinkerton abandoned their home in Nagasaki shortly after the wedding. Butterfly waits in anticipation for his return and, in the meantime, has given birth to Pinkerton’s child. The marriage broker, Goro, continues to try and marry Butterfly off once again, notably to the rich Prince Yamadori, but Butterfly refuses to entertain the idea. The American consul, Sharpless, visits Butterfly with a letter from her husband, which reveals that the officer has remarried and will not be returning to Butterfly. Sharpless finds himself unable to deliver the news to Butterfly.

Butterfly espies Pinkerton’s ship and excitedly prepares the household for his return. At daybreak, Pinkerton still has not arrived and, while Butterfly sleeps, Sharpless, Pinkerton, and his new wife, Kate, arrive at the house. Pinkerton is overcome with remorse as it sinks in that Butterfly has waited devotedly for him and decorated the house for his return. Unable to face her, he leaves, whilst Kate remains to ask Butterfly for care of the child. At sight of Kate, Butterfly realises what Pinkerton has done, and she agrees to give up their son if Pinkerton himself comes to see her. Butterfly says goodbye to her child, blindfolds him, gives him an American flag with which to play, before committing suicide by falling on her father’s seppuku knife.


Simple wooden panels line the stage, marking the interior of the house rented by Lieutenant Pinkerton for himself and his bride, Cio-Cio-San. The stage is empty, bar a few Japanese icons to the right, a Statue of Liberty figurine and a framed photograph – presumably of Pinkerton – to the left. Cio-Cio-San never departs from this interior space, remaining on stage almost constantly, accompanied by her devoted maid, Suzuki.

Pinkerton, on the other hand, is constantly traversing the threshold. His well-cut, bright blue officer uniform feels discordant with the muted shades worn for the wedding by Cio-Cio-San’s relatives, and with the delicate, pure white, Japanese bridal dress that adorns Butterfly herself. Cio-Cio-San barely moves in the first act, a vision of innocence and restraint, whilst Pinkerton is restless, striding around the stage.

His overtures to Butterfly on the first night of their marriage are made all the more poignant by such a contrast. Stripped of the many layers of her dress, as Pinkerton watches on, Butterfly finally lays herself down on the stage, very still and clad in a flimsy white shift, to receive his advances. Whilst the marriage has been sought and welcomed by Butterfly herself, the choice to foreground Cio-Cio-San’s motionless, white figure, where other productions might have had Pinkerton and his bride leave the stage at this moment of intimacy, underlines her vulnerability and enclosure within this domestic space.

In Acts Two and Three, however, the roles have been somewhat reversed. Three years on, Butterfly dominates the household, both spatially and vocally, whilst Suzuki threatens and dismisses the meddlesome marriage broker Goro, forever hovering on the threshold. Pinkerton is nowhere to be seen. When he does appear, towards the end of Act Three, the officer, once assured and suave, is crippled by remorse for his abandonment of Cio-Cio-San, his body bowed and stumbling around the stage.

He leaves, unable to face his deserted wife, and the silhouette of Pinkerton’s new, American wife looms on one panelled screen in his place. This is Kate, come to take from the mother the child that Pinkerton has fathered. The child is blindfolded by his mother and handed an American flag with which to play, whilst Butterfly commits suicide, by her father’s seppuku knife, with composure and resolution, and in what she considers an honorific act.

Singers and Orchestra

The company was expertly led by Kevin John Edusei. Both singers and orchestra were characterised throughout by a peerless clarity and precision from the first fugal entries of the orchestral Prelude to Act One. The orchestra was, on the whole, too loud – an awesome, rich body of sound that thrilled in Puccini’s orchestral preludes, yet threatened to overpower the singers in solo numbers and duets. The quality of the singers ensured, however, that this did not happen, and every syllable was delivered with a power that made the libretto intelligible to the auditorium.

The cast of this Butterfly is truly superb, and Asmik Grigorian dazzles as the titular character. Butterfly’s innocence and vulnerability become incarnate in Grigorian’s being, down to the slightly tremulous nature of her voice in the first act. This childlike purity is punctuated, however, by flashes of ferocity, as Grigorian reveals the intensity of Cio-Cio-San’s love for Pinkerton. Such inner strength is on full vocal display in the second and third acts, as Butterfly waits for her husband’s return, whilst suffering the rejection of her friends, relatives, and the wider community. Hongni Wu matches, as Suzuki, the expressive power of Grigorian’s voice, and together, in Act Two, they demonstrate a close emotional bond between the two women.

Ya-Chung Huang provides some much-needed comic relief as the wily Goro, as does the large, bustling ensemble of Cio-Cio-San’s friends and relatives, most notably Andrew O’Connor, who inspired laughter with his brief cameo as the drunken Uncle Yakusidé. Grigorian’s dismissive treatment of the heart-stricken Prince Yamadori (Josef Jeongmeen Ahn) – whom, Butterfly notes, has been divorced many times – also raised laughter amongst the audience. This episode becomes imbued with a bittersweet note when it is realised that Butterfly is upholding her understanding of American law for Pinkerton’s sake.

Pinkerton himself is played by Joshua Guerrero, who skilfully delivers the alternately shallow, principled, and reckless qualities that dominate the Lieutenant’s character. The Act One ‘America for ever’ duet with Lauri Vasar, as the US Consul Sharpless, demonstrates a warmth for Pinkerton’s country, its laws and values, that is chillingly absent from all interactions with his Japanese bride. Vasar, by contrast, is noteworthy for the extreme empathy that he shows as Sharpless, in both voice and act, for the neglected Butterfly. It is Sharpless who, in the final act, stands over and denounces the cowering Pinkerton and, with upright stance and expressive, compassionate voice, embodies the honour that Pinkerton would claim to represent.


The premiere of the Royal Opera House’s 2024 Madama Butterfly was a triumph. The cast were collectively and individually excellent, both musically and dramatically, and Asmik Grigorian shone as Butterfly. The orchestra were equally outstanding, though the deep, full-bodied sound would have overpowered a weaker ensemble of singers. Aside from a few, isolated boos for the conductor, and a chorus of good-natured boos for the villain of the piece, Pinkerton, the audience applauded enthusiastically for this superb production.

Rebecca Severy MPhil BA (Hons)

Photograph: Marc Brenner

The photo shows: Asmik Grigorian (Cio-Cio-San) Joshua Guerrero (Pinkerton)

Veröffentlicht unter London Covent Garden-Royal Opera House, Opern