This production of Puccini’s masterpiece was delivered on the identical monochromatic set as the Cavalleria rusticana of the previous day, with only a difference in the colour: red for Cavalleria, white for Butterfly.

The latter setting, though, was designed in a more than traditional scene: the story of love and despair of Cio-Cio San for Pinkerton, the US navy officer who unscrupulously  deceives the little geisha, is delivered on a stage which, though unadorned, finely evokes a Japanese landscape. Sergio Tramonti’s austere, pretty essential scene preserves all the piece’s melancholy and fascination.

<i>Madama Butterfly</i> © Teatro di San Carlo
Madama Butterfly
© Teatro di San Carlo

Also Giusi Giustino’s costumes are kept simple: the heroine is dressed all in white in Act I, when she gets married and happily accepts to be disowned by her family because of her love for Pinkerton. In Act II, her outfit is red, while the anguish and the hope for her spouse's homecoming unceasingly mix up. Finally, the Act III finale is braved by a woman in a funereal black costume.

The theatre was packed, the applause was deafening, and yet a perplexity remains for this production and its director, who seemed to underrate the value of the opera, with the banality of ideas like a rain of red petals. What is more, there is Delbono's continuous presence on stage, along with his double, the little deaf-mute actor Bobò: they are often at the centre of the stage and in the focus of the action, Delbono angrily moving around like a tiger in a cage, Bobò holding Butterfly’s child’s hand or simply being there, motionless.

The movements of the principals and the chorus are as little as possible, to magnify the actions of the director. His narcissistic interferences, trying to keep the focus on himself and his double Bobò, have the effect of distracting our attention from the real protagonists. You could almost hear him grunting to himself: “Madama Butterfly, c'est moi”. In his delusion of omnipotence, Delbono also showed up in the parterre before each act began, apparently trying to give a non-orthodox reading to the opera as he unconvincingly declaimed a poem by J. Prévert, one which was dear to teenagers in love some decades ago.

As for the cast of singers, soprano Raffaella Angeletti depicted piccolo Butterfly with impeccable technique, balance and expressiveness, representing her as a voluntary outcast despised by her family clan and ready to die for love.  Angeletti  is now a veteran in the role, being of the most acclaimed Butterfly in the last ten years. 

The Pinkerton of Vincenzo Costanzo was commendable. Born in 1991, he trained in the choir of Teatro di San Carlo and for the last three years has been engaged for more and more important roles because of the fine sound of his mid-register, the liveliness of his phrasing and his extended top of his tenor.

Marco Caria has a noble baritone timbre and delivered a polished and incisive interpretation of Sharpless. Anna Pennisi's Suzuki, Butterfly's confidante, was firm and ripe, firmly rooted in the role's tradition.

The imperious Bonze was sang by the strong bass-baritone voice of Abraham Rosalen. Andrea Giovannini acted the role of Goro with great intelligence and effective stagecraft. Miriam Artiaco was a well characterised Kate Pinkerton, a role that only has a few bars of singing, but is dramaturgically crucial as she induces, though involuntarily, the Japanese bride to run to the tragic epilogue.

As for the musical execution, Nicola Luisotti drew an excellent outline of the opera, as he conducted knowledgeably the multifarious score, which Puccini made up with an assortment of styles and models. The conductor exalted the Oriental flavours in the combinations of sound, and created an exciting Butterfly.

A note of praise goes to an orchestra of San Carlo which is having favourable momentum, despite the very few days Luisotti had to rehearse because of the sudden replacement. An excellent performance from the chorus was also advantaged by Puccini's score, the “Humming Chorus” being one of the most loved choral pieces ever.