Minghella’s Butterfly in Vilnius

You have travelled 1300 miles to see opera in Vilnius and you find a production that you could have seen in London. Admittedly it is Anthony Minghella’s renowned staging of Madam Butterfly and a decade or so after its original conception it has lost none of its freshness and aesthetic qualities. It provides an object lesson in being faithful to the character of a work while avoiding clichés, a besetting problem for Puccini’s popular piece. There is a bare stage apart from a few props and a set of screens which are moved to and fro to contain Cio Cio San’s inner world of fantasy and delusion, and a huge mirror above to reflect the same. Outsiders to this world descend from their silhouetted appearance at the rear. Ace lighting designer Peter Mumford sets the mood for each scene with appropriate colours, climaxing at the end with crimson and then darkness. Darkly clad, masked extras, with stylised choreographed movement, carry symbols of the drama (fans, flowers, stars). Cio Cio San’s child is played by an expertly controlled puppet. As so often in the theatre, poignancy comes from representation, rather than reality.

In the title role Sandra Janušaite was a convincing naïve teenager, but a certain shrillness marred her vocal outpourings. Merūnas Vitulskis, also known locally as a pop singer, was an impressive Pinkerton with a tenor of steely timbre; and dramatically he held the right balance between callousness and eventual remorse. There were good supporting performances from Jovita Vaškevičiūtė as Suzuki and Rafailis Karpis as Goro, but Dainius Stumbras was a pale, rather uncertain Sharpless. In the pit, Giancarlo Marciano directed the proceedings with energy and passion.