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Minghella’s Madam Butterfly is still one of the ENO’s most beautiful productions, says David Ladds

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Set in Japan before the First World War, Puccini’s Madam Butterfly tells the story of a young Japanese geisha and her ill-fated love for a visiting US Lieutenant. Back in 2005, Anthony Minghella’s new production of this popular opera won a flurry of awards and critical acclaim. Now in its fourth revival, the production has become a mainstay of the ENO’s calendar.

Visually Madam Butterfly is as strong as ever; the use of coloured light and the large sloping mirror at the back of the stage creates a cinematic feel. At one point this enables the audience to see a reflection of Butterfly sleeping behind a screen while Pinkerton and Suzuki, Butterfly’s maid, orchestrate their betrayal at the front of the stage.

Origami birds, hand-held lanterns and strings of petals hanging from the ceiling are just some of the other touches that make this production so much more than the music and singing. We’re even treated to some traditional Japanese puppetry as three puppeteers dressed entirely in black bring Butterfly’s wooden-puppet child to life.

In the pit Oleg Caetani does a fine job with Puccini’s timeless score and the cast is generally strong. Mary Plazes, who won widespread critical acclaim as Butterfly in Minghella’s original 2005 production, returns to portray the title role while the ever-dependable Gwyn Hughes Jones sings the role of Pinkerton, an American Lieutenant who weds the 15-year old Butterfly. Hughes Jones is particularly impressive in Act Two, Part II, when it finally dawns upon him how his betrayal has affected poor Butterfly.

Minghella’s Madam Butterfly is a visual and aural assault on your senses and still one of the ENO’s most beautiful productions.

* Madam Butterfly is at the London Coliseum in St Martin’s Lane, WC2, until Saturday June 2. Box office 020 7845 9300.

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