When Graeme Murphy first unveiled his new take on Puccini Lady Butterfly in 2019, he left audiences breathless. Maybe it was because it was so radically different from the production that had prevailed for the previous 20 years, or because the assortment of cultural and creative ideas on stage was overwhelming. Reviews ranged from “brilliant” to “abominable”. This revamped production somehow doesn’t feel as cluttered and confronting, though the metaphors still suffer from a lack of subtlety.
The image used in the marketing materials is taken from the opening scene in which a large web-like structure made of red velvet rope descends from above. In the center, trapped like a butterfly in a web, is a woman. Almost naked women are strewn across the stage, bound with the same red velvet rope in the style of shibari – Japanese rope bondage.
In another scene, a dancer disguised as a butterfly appears, literally pinned to a wall like a captured specimen. The Bonze is wearing a big origami bird costume and there are cute fashionable harajuku girls in one scene.
There are plenty of American references too, with the stars and stripes frequently gracing the stage and a very visible nod to a famous first lady’s pink Chanel suit.
The set consists of a series of mobile hanging walls on which different colors and images are projected. The central stage is raised and surrounded by what looks like a jagged border. It is also very slightly angled towards the audience. When the decor is subtly lit, without projections or other superfluous details, minimalism allows the focus to be on the powerful story and the extraordinary performance. That’s pretty much how Act II plays out and it’s very moving and very absorbing.
Sae Kyung Rim is magnificent as Cio-Cio-San, with a vocal performance that delivers naivety, desperation, cheekiness, and pure-hearted love all at once. Sian Sharp draws a multitude of emotions from the devoted Suzuki. Diego Torre’s return to this production as the spineless Pinkerton and Vergilio Marino is delightfully wicked as the slimy, mean Goro.
It’s the second act of this production that really stands out. There are some very beautiful moments, which, depending on your point of view, are either enhanced or diminished by the incessant digital projections.