Anthony Minghella's 'Madama Butterfly'

Cristina Gallardo-Domas as Cio-Cio-San, with her puppet son in Madama Butterfly i i

Cristina Gallardo-Domas as Cio-Cio-San, with her puppet son in Anthony Minghella's Madama Butterfly, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York through Nov. 18. Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center hide caption

itoggle caption Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center
Cristina Gallardo-Domas as Cio-Cio-San, with her puppet son in Madama Butterfly

Cristina Gallardo-Domas as Cio-Cio-San, with her puppet son in Anthony Minghella's Madama Butterfly, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York through Nov. 18.

Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center
Nick Barnes (left) and Mark Down of Blind Summit Puppet Theatre with a Madama Butterfly pup

Nick Barnes (left) and Mark Down of Blind Summit Puppet Theatre with a Madama Butterfly puppet "understudy." Josh Rogosin, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Josh Rogosin, NPR

On a dark and glimmering stage, the tragic Cio-Cio-San strolls amid falling cherry petals with her faithless American husband, Pinkerton. He'll desert her in the next act, but for now, they gaze adoringly at each other as dancers hold an arch of paper lanterns over their heads. This is Madama Butterfly, one of Puccini's most famous operas — and film director Minghella's debut at the Metropolitan Opera.

Minghella put together a remarkable team: set designer Michael Levine, costume designer Han Feng, puppeteers from London's Blind Summit Puppet Theatre, and Minghella's wife, choreographer Carolyn Choa. Most of them are newcomers to opera.

"We approached this production with as much humility as we ought to have had," Minghella says, "in the sense that singers are working all the time, and to be standing on the Met stage means ... they're the best singers in the world.

Minghella spent five years mulling over ideas for how he might make an opera, thinking about which opera to choose and how to adapt the skills he used in The English Patient and Cold Mountain to the opera stage.

"We are first-time opera makers, it's not for us to revolutionize opera," he explains. "It's for us to understand it and to bring to bear whatever it is that we can bring to the work."

Such as bringing more drama to the moments when singers aren't not singing.

"They fill up their lungs and they sing, then they move to the next location and they fill up their lungs and they sing," Minghella says, "The fact that they're in a conversation is the last thing they're asked to think about. We asked them to think about that, to see if it would change anything, and they were, like all artists, thrilled to be challenged.

Minghella's vision of Madama Butterfly plays at the Metropolitan Opera through Nov. 18.

Engineer: Josh Rogosin, Producer: Petra Mayer

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