“Whenever an audience leaves Madam Butterfly, you hear familiar things as they walk through the foyer: 'How beautiful', 'how lovely' - but this is a story about a fifteen year old girl married and abandoned by an older man. There is something seedy and dark and discomfiting about it within the astonishing music. I've wanted to direct my own Butterfly since assisting on it at Sydney Opera House, and having spent some time in Thailand, felt that Cio-Cio-san's story could very well be that of any of the ladyboys in the bars on Patpong road, picked up by Western tourists and then ditched a few days later, the fun over, a naive heart broken.
My Madam Butterfly (or Bangkok Butterfly) is a fifteen year old lady boy picked up by American Airlines pilot Pinkerton for five days of fun. Pinkerton promises to return for her on his next long haul flight; but of course he doesn't, and Butterfly is left facing the world alone. This is a tragic story, and it's in the tragedy that the beauty is found. It's a story about being on the edge of human experience, which is where all the best drama locates itself - there's something of everyone in the actions of Pinkerton, an unintentional casual disregard for humanity when it's wrapped up in the exotic and mysterious. This is one of the key things I'm exploring in this new version.
In the same way as my company did for La Boheme, we're seeking to show that there's more to Madam Butterfly than beautiful music or spectacle: that there's a real story, a real drama and a real heart, and that it means as much today as when Puccini wrote it - that people are still as shockingly treated in present-day Bangkok as in 1890s Nagasaki.
Madam Butterfly (or Bangkok Butterfly) is OperaUpClose’s second Puccini opera following their groundbreaking La Bohème in a pub setting at the Cock Tavern, Kilburn, that then transferred for a sell-out season at Soho Theatre.
Bangkok Butterfly runs at The King’s Head Theatre, Islington until 23 January 2001. Box Office: 0844 477 1000. www.kingsheadtheatre.com