Production? What production? Director Paul Higgins has left barely a fingerprint on Puccini’s tale of exploitation, deception and disappointed hope. The first let-down is the set – there isn't one. Instead, the action unfolds on an empty stage, save for one screen. A single chair arrives in the second act, but, by then, one senses that Higgins has invested all his energy into defining the characters and the central relationship between American lieutenant Pinkerton his hapless conquest – 15-year-old Japanese girl Cio-Cio San.
And fair enough, had Higgins succeeded. However, for the most part, the drama is almost as anaemic as what passes for the set. Much of the acting is wooden, characters fail to engage with one another, long passages fly by with hardly a flicker of movement from the stage. Joseph Wolverton sings passably but makes a colourless Pinkerton. David Stephenson’s Sharpless and Patricia Orr’s Suzuki are decent enough. By and large, however, the singers struggle to be heard above the roar of the orchestra – owing, in part, to Manlio Benzi’s rather robust, one-dimensional conducting.
With so little directorial input and characters that we fail to believe in, the opera – already far from being Puccini’s shortest – starts to feel even longer. The redeeming feature is soprano Anne Sophie Duprels, who puts in a vocally pristine, dignified and deeply felt performance in the title role. Hannah Nepil