Turkish-Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek staged this new production of Madama Butterfly at Teatro San Carlo in Naples with a fine, penetrating approach. Best known as film director film, Ozpetek hitherto has directed two other operas, Aida and Traviata, pouring into his stagings motifs and themes which revealed his sophisticated, multi-ethnic cultural background. His Cio-Cio-San is quite unconventional, an adolescent who grows into a sexually aware woman abruptly, driven by the erotic urges aroused by Pinkerton’s seductive arts. In her duet with the naval officer, Butterfly’s sexuality explodes and the two lovers are almost naked at the end of Act 1. A finely wrought scene indeed, but not a shocking one, which received polite applause at the end.

Evgenia Muraveva (Cio-Cio-San) © Luciano Romano
Evgenia Muraveva (Cio-Cio-San)
© Luciano Romano

Anyway, Butterfly is such a beautiful piece of art that, in every production I’ve attended until now, audience and performers are always fully caught up in the touching tragedy. We have to enjoy this music along with a credible story, and Ozpetek made this happen.

Sergio Tramonti's sets were captivating, as they evoked generic Japanese locations: two moving giant walls, the ocean on the backdrop, an exotic, spellbinding atmosphere being intensified by clever use of lighting by Pasquale Mari. The costumes, designed by Alessandro Lai, were also superb.

For the most part, soprano Evgenia Muraveva’s singing was quite good, although with a slightly sour hint in her tone. She showed the necessary ability and energy to stay on stage for almost the entire piece. And she really measured up to the requirement on occasions, for example when performing a powerful “Un bel dì” or in her poignant scene with Sharpless, when she is informed that her American husband does not intend to return. She may not have the purest sound in the world, but she delivered a moving performance. At the start, her voice had a lithe quality that was evocative of a young, inexperienced woman. Then, she sang with a more striking timbre that increased until the dramatic epilogue. Her “Vogliatemi bene” duet at the end of Act 1, showcased her transformation, into a woman overwhelmed by love and sensuality.

Saimir Pirgu (Pinkerton) and Evgenia Muraveva (Cio-Cio-San) © Luciano Romano
Saimir Pirgu (Pinkerton) and Evgenia Muraveva (Cio-Cio-San)
© Luciano Romano

Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu impressed as Pinkerton, with a lovely ringing tone. His rendition of “Dovunque al mondo” was quite perfect and he matched Muraveva with passionate singing. He was so expressive to make Pinkerton more multifaceted than he is usually portrayed. When the American disappears at the start of Act 2, the emotional wave still submerged Cio-Cio-San and the audience. In the end, Pirgu’s Pinkerton was clearly overcome by his own lack of principles and his superficiality, his late remorse appearing sincere.

Giovanni Meoni displayed an elegant baritone sound as Sharpless and gave a lucid and incisive reading of the compassionate American consul. With a rounded vocal tone, his warm voice was matched by touching acting. Suzuki was solidly sung by Raffaella Lupinacci who added to the traditional rendition of the role of a devoted friend, an almost erotic attraction for Cio-Cio-San. The two women’s Flower Duet was another vocal highlight of the evening.

<i>Madama Butterfly</i> at the Teatro San Carlo © Luciano Romano
Madama Butterfly at the Teatro San Carlo
© Luciano Romano

The imperious Bonzo was sung by the strong bass of Ildo Song. Luca Casalin sang in the role of Goro, the wily marriage broker, with a voice as shrewd as to exacerbate his character. Rossella Locatelli was a well-defined Kate Pinkerton, a role that has only a few lines of singing, but it is dramaturgically fundamental since it is she who directs, even if involuntarily, the Japanese bride towards the tragic epilogue.

As for the musical execution, Gabriele Ferro conducted expertly the score, in which Puccini uses a variety of styles and forms. The conductor heightened the oriental atmosphere in the amalgamation of sounds, and created a pleasant Butterfly, if a little too slow and “diluted” at times.

***11