Saving Madama Butterfly

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lennygoran
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Saving Madama Butterfly

Post by lennygoran » Fri May 19, 2017 8:12 pm

Didn't know it needed saving. Regards, Len


A Radical Redo for ‘Madama Butterfly’ — to Save It?

By MARY VON AUE MAY 19, 2017


When Anna Netrebko appeared in full old-fashioned geisha get-up at the recent gala concert celebrating the Metropolitan Opera’s 50th anniversary at Lincoln Center, you didn’t need to look at your program to know that she would be performing “Un bel dì,” the most recognizable aria from Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.”

Ms. Netrebko’s dramatically contoured eyebrows, black wig adorned with kanzashi (ornaments) and stylized arm and hand movements paid homage to traditional stagings of this beloved 1904 opera, which revolves around Cio-Cio San, a Japanese teenager who is seduced and then abandoned by a caddish American naval officer. But opera is going through a broad reassessment of the way its classics, almost all conceived by Western men, have regularly portrayed Asia.

The kitschy, kimono-clad white actors who have often been cast in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” have stirred outrage in recent years, setting off a debate about whether that 1885 piece can be acceptably presented to a modern audience. The gaudy Orientalism of another Puccini crowd-pleaser, “Turandot,” set in an imaginary ancient China and featuring three ministers named Ping, Pang and Pong, has also been criticized. “Butterfly,” an opera based on a short story and subsequent play, helped perpetuate the modern Western stereotype of the obedient, long-suffering Asian woman. “Love me with a little love,” Cio-Cio-San sings at one point, because “we are a people used to small, modest and quiet things.”

“Pieces like ‘Madama Butterfly’ tend to be frozen in time: in the way they’re presented, in the way people expect to receive them,” said Daniel Schlosberg, the music director of Heartbeat Opera, a small New York company that will be presenting four performances of a radically revised and trimmed 90-minute “Butterfly,” from Saturday through May 28 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center in Manhattan.
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Directed by the company’s co-founder, Ethan Heard, who wrote the adaptation with Jacob Ashworth, this “Butterfly” frames the action with a young Asian-American boy watching the events of the plot unfold — reminding the audience, Mr. Heard said, “that we start absorbing these stories, culture and images before we can even understand them.”

“This opera is a masterpiece,” he added. “We want to honor the beautiful writing and score, but inject some questioning into it, and bring people in closer proximity to it.”

Rather than beginning the opera with Puccini’s first act — Cio-Cio-San and Lt. B. F. Pinkerton’s wedding, which culminates in an ecstatic love duet — the Heartbeat production opens with Puccini’s Act II, in which Cio-Cio San, only 15 and left alone with a small child, has resigned herself to waiting for her lover’s return. Mr. Ashworth said that the idea was “tip the scales a bit, to take the romance out of its mythical setting and watch Cio-Cio San make her choice as a contemporary woman would.”


In Mr. Schlosberg’s arrangement of the score for an intimate ensemble — two violins, two cellos, viola and harp — the haunting melody of the “humming chorus,” as Cio-Cio-San keeps her vigil for Pinkerton, gives way to a dream sequence, assembled from scenes of Puccini’s Act I. A blaring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” brings on Pinkerton, with his beer-chugging machismo and his lack of understanding of Japan.

Perhaps most provocative, the adaptation tweaks the work’s ending, in which Cio-Cio-San, faced with Pinkerton’s request to return with their child to America, kills herself with her father’s seppuku knife after reading the inscription on it: “Who cannot live with honor must die with honor.” The Heartbeat production is ambiguous about whether she has actually committed suicide.

“We want to give her a chance to express all the stuff that’s usually just smashed down, but still deny the audience the satisfaction of seeing her kill herself,” Mr. Heard said. “Because there’s something fetishistic even about seeing that Japanese act of suicide, where audiences are wowed by the act of falling on a samurai sword.”


While Asian sopranos have appeared in the opera’s title role at the Met and elsewhere, the character is still most often portrayed by white women. “It’s a chicken versus the egg thing,” Mr. Heard said. “If a company has a vision for the future, it has to be training a community of artists who can be the future of opera. It needs to be helping people up through the ranks. There are a lot of wonderfully talented Asian singers. I think they can find them.”

Mr. Heard, who is the son of a Chinese mother and a white American father, has chosen to cast Asian singers, Banlingyu Ban and Siobahn Sung, as Cio-Cio San and her handmaiden, Suzuki. Referring to the cultural expectations that “Butterfly” introduced, he said that having them in the cast “lets them bring that to the stage and activate that. It’s really powerful.”

Ms. Ban, who plays the title role and began her training at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, was once pained by Cio-Cio San, pitying the character much the way the audience does. But that isn’t her plan for the Heartbeat production, her first time singing the daunting role. “We want to show the audience a modern Asian woman,” she said. “To transform her anger and sadness.”

While some may find “Madama Butterfly” too precious for alteration, Mr. Ashworth said he expected many audience members to be relieved to see an adaptation that confronts the opera’s biggest issues. “No more trying to enjoy the beauty while quietly bearing the racism,” he said.

The Heartbeat collaborators say their intention is to treat the music with due reverence, to allow audiences to enjoy it while trying to salvage it from its archaic vantage point. “Operas like this are strengthened by adaptation because it lets new generations engage with them,” Mr. Schlosberg said. “Otherwise, they become frozen in a museum.”



https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/19/arts ... front&_r=0

maestrob
Posts: 4717
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: Saving Madama Butterfly

Post by maestrob » Sat May 20, 2017 11:38 am

Stuff & nonsense! They just couldn't find a tenor capable of handling the difficulties of the love duet! :mrgreen:

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