Madama Butterfly

The Classical Music, Yo season continues on TLYW. Last night I went to see Madam Butterfly at the Royal Opera House. It was one of the best things I’ve ever been to. Here’s the official trailer.

When I see opera (I love that this is a phrase that I use now), I want to be able to follow the story. This is a tragic opera about unrequited love, the story is simple and it only has about half a dozen characters.

Madam Butterfly is a beautiful, captivating young girl. She lives in Japan. She is temporarily ‘married’ to a handsome American, with whom she is in love. She takes the wedding and the marriage very seriously and calls herself Mrs Pinkerton. What she does not realise is that he is just taking advantage of a loose legal arrangement that allows him to enjoy the comforts of a temporary wife for a time until he feels like abandoning the relationship. So that’s what he does. He lives with her for a short time, gets her pregnant, then makes his excuses and disappears back to America. She waits a long time for him to return, believing that she is legitimately his wife and he will come home to her. When he eventually reappears in Japan with his new American wife in tow, he is too ashamed to even speak to her, steals her child, who she will not be able to support on her own, and leaves her to commit suicide.

As if that were not heart-rending enough, there was a real Miss Butterfly. The opera, written in 1903, is based on a play, which was based on a story, which was based on real events, described in this extract from the programme:

butterfly storybutterfly rain

Discussion by the Royal Opera House concerning why it is such a powerful opera:

The music – this is 19th century Orientalism. Puccini was Italian but was very fascinated by The Orient, as it was then known, as were many people of his generation, including writers of other operas (e.g., The Mikado). He’s very interested in creating a Japanese atmosphere and incorporates tunes from Japanese music boxes and other Japanese motifs into the context of an opera with an Italian framework and flavour.

There’s a rather nice French film version here, from 1995, with a handsome Mr Pinkerton and delicate Miss Butterfly.

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