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Subject: Re: Cultural controversy swirls around Seattle Opera’s ‘Madame Butterfly’
From: "G. Paul Padillo" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:G. Paul Padillo
Date:Thu, 3 Aug 2017 11:08:40 -0400

text/plain (69 lines)

Fascinating article, Jason.  At the risk of sounding insensitive, I truly 
believe too many people, regardless of heritage or culture, can be a bit 
over sensitive and reactionary when their culture is portrayed in a light that 
they don’t appreciate.  

I was particularly flummoxed by Ms. Gainor’s final quote:

“. . . Cio-Cio San is a sex-trafficked 15-year old Japanese teenager.  Why 
are we so comfortable with that, to the point of romanticizing it and telling 
the story over and over?”

The answer is, I believe, less complex than some might want to believe:  Cio
Cio-Cio San's story is, despite its “Oriental trappings,” universal and, 
regardless of one's own culture, we develop an automatic and great, 
sympathy (even empathy) for this young woman who, though the cards of 
life are stacked against her from the beginning, refuses to play the victim.  

While some would vilify Puccini we must remember he didn’t write Butterfly 
to poke fun at a culture he knew little about, but rather because Cio-Cio 
San stole, then broke his heart.  She does for many of us.

While in London supervising the English premiere of “Tosca”, Puccini 
attended Belasco’s play during its premiere run at the Duke of York 
Theatre.  According to Belasco, Puccini rushed backstage, threw his arms 
around the playwright and, still weeping from the performance, begged 
Belasco to allow him to set it to music.  Belasco offered Puccini the rights 
immediately because, “it was impossible to discuss arrangements with an 
impulsive Italian who has tears in his eyes and both of his arms around 
your neck.”  (More stereotypes!)  

Regardless of his ignorance of genuine Japanese culture, Puccini gives this 
seemingly naïve, fragile, and enormous strength and nobility.  While many 
Asians may not appreciate what he created, others have (and do) with 
productions designed and starring Asian artists, some of them playing in 
Seoul, (where during a recent run, the title role was split between two 
sopranos – an Armenian and an Italian), Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Saga 
(Japan), Singapore (this season they also staged Turandot) . . . and other 
Asian cities.  

A number of Asian artists have actually been influenced and inspired by 
Puccini’s opera, including composer Shigeaki Saegusa who, with a libretto 
by one of Japan’s most respected writers, Masahiko Shimada, 
created “Butterfly, Jr.” 

Renowned director Kuriyama Tamiya, whose credits include Broadway and 
London’s West End, recently directed an enormously successful production 
of Butterfly for the New National Theatre in (wait for it) . . . Tokyo.  

While I would never minimize either the offense or contempt felt by many 
for Puccini’s opera, I do feel it does not paint a complete picture, and 
Asians who are touched and inspired by it, also should not be ignored or minimized.

Thanks again for sharing your article with us.


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