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Madame Butterfly Review

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A Yankee sailor marries a geisha, does a disappearing act and then shows up three years later to demand she hands over their son to his new American wife.

★★★★★

Some of the biggest names in cinema history have had a stab at opera over the years. But only Ingmar Bergman, with his sprightly reworking of The Magic Flute, has approached screen opera with anything like the imagination a director would usually bring to a filmed play or novel.

Frederic Mitterrand (nephew of the late French president) has at least broken out of the traditional stage confines and given this adaptation of Puccini's old favourite a vaguely locational feel. But, like all who've gone before him, he's been unable to reproduce the thrill of the live operatic voice that has been wont to send shivers down the spine and bring neck hairs to attention.

He's also fallen into the old trap of confining the action to close-ups of singing faces, which no amount of gliding camera work can make interesting. Alan Parker was closer to the mark with Evita - leave the singing to the soundtrack and let the visuals tell the story. Nagasaki in 1904 presents fewer visual opportunities than 40s Argentina, but Mitterrand might have given us something more dynamic than some archly clustered groups and a bit of early 1900s newsreel.

The tale of a Yankee sailor who marries a geisha, does a disappearing act and then shows up three years later to demand she hands over their son to his new American wife will raise many a hackle in these days of supposed political correctness. But opera buffs should have no complaints with the quality of the young cast, particularly Huang, whose rendition of One Fine Day is the high spot of an otherwise routine opera movie.

Will raise many a hackle in these days of supposed political correctness but opera buffs will be entertained.