To be relevant, opera must connect with the real world. It needs to connect with the zeitgeist and all its complexity as it evolves beyond the 18th, 19th, and 20th century cultural sensibilities. Welsh National Opera’s latest production of Madam Butterfly does just that. We caught up with Lindy Hume, the director behind this modern day re-telling of Puccini’s much-loved opera.
‘I remember three exact moments where I found my intrigue and passion for directing. The first one was when I was a dancer in Lucia di Lammermoor with Dame Joan Sutherland at the Sydney Opera House. I must have been about 18, and I was fascinated by the interaction between the director John Copley, the assistant director Elke Neidhardt, and this large cast. I just thought – ‘I want to do that job’.
The second was when I was directing my first Carmen. I was directing Act 4 and suddenly understood that I could express something incredibly personal through these female characters – that was an exciting moment. Perhaps the most thrilling has been finding my happy place within this unique artform.
The third moment was when I discovered baroque opera. It was like opening a door to another world – emotionally, aesthetically, musically, and dramatically.'
When invited to direct Welsh National Opera’s latest production of Madam Butterfly, I wondered what a community emerging from a period of such turbulence gains by watching this poor mouse run through this maze yet again? Might we see Butterfly not as ‘the exotic other’ or the ‘tragic heroine’ but simply as a cruelly treated human in need? I wanted to find ways for moments of beauty and human connection to shine through the work’s brutality to audiences now, by connecting Butterfly’s situation with some of the social currents of our own biosphere.
My favourite moments in this production are the moments of connection – both friction and true tenderness - between Butterfly and Suzuki. This feels to me to be the true love story of the opera, their lives are so enmeshed. The first time we did the flower duet fully, with the child placing his dinosaur toy with the flowers, it nearly killed me…they were all just so happy in that moment, and yet we all know how deluded and fragile their celebration is.
Reviving my own productions is always interesting because you find new things with new people in the show and whatever’s happening around the world. In many ways reviving a show and keeping it true is harder than doing it the first time, because while the stage directions and revolve cues are set in the first production, it should remain tight, yet fluid and flexible enough to embrace a range of casts and circumstances. The focus must be on crystallising the philosophy, psychological arc and political motivation behind the show. This Butterfly is a good example of this.