Thursday, March 15, 2007

Jewbiquitous Outing: Madama Butterfly

Before I talk about the opera I'd like to note that I lost my monthly metrocard, and as I don't get it with a credit card (stupid TransitChek), I can't have it replaced. I am not well pleased.

At any rate, Harley was sick, so the roommate and I went to see Madama Butterfly at City Opera, which is not quite as cool as the Met, but still pretty cool. The premise of the opera is that an American Lieutenant (Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton) for some reason is stationed in Japan, and decides to take a wife, and a house. Both of them are 999 year leases, but can be cancelled at any month. He gets the 15-year-old former Geisha Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly). They marry, and she is super into it. He, however, always plans to eventually marry a 'real American' woman. At some point he leaves, and Butterfly waits for him for three years, and shortly after he has left, bears him a son. She gets the news that he's coming back, and gets super-excited, as she has believed his promises that he'd wait for her, etc, etc. In the meantime she is growing progressively poorer, and ignoring possible suitors (apparently divorce was super-easy in Japan).
She stays up all night waiting for him, and falls asleep at dawn. At dawn Pinkerton arrives with his friend the consul and his new wife, Kate. They want to take the boy. Long story short, Butterfly agrees, tells him to come back in half an hour, and just as he enters the house calling out "Butterfly" she kills herself.

Ok, so the music is fabulous, interspersed with the leit motifs of "the star spangled banner" and "sakura," which is kind of neat. The singers were great, the costumes were beautiful, and the staging very interesting. I have no qualms with any of those. Here are the questions that I would have for Puccini, the author:
1) Why is an opera about Americans and Japanese people in Italian?

2) How can a Lieutenant afford a foreign wife, and a fabulous house? Corollary to that: unclear on the mechanics of how/why he felt the need to marry someone, stay in Japan that long.

3) How come he comes back on the same warship three years later? Lieutenants don't usually stay on ships that long, they switch around. Is he still a Lieutenant?

4) Why is the ship white? The Great White Fleet wasn't until 1904, and Puccini first wrote the opera in 1899. Although according to the liner notes, the definitive version was not produced until 1911, which might answer my question.

and last, but not least:

5) A 15-year-old? Really? You seduced and left a 15-year-old? And this was her second career after being a geisha? Ew.

6 comments:

The Pedant said...

WHY IS MADAMA BUTTERFLY IN ITALIAN?

Why is Carmen, about Spain, in French? Why is La Boheme, about Paris life, in Italian? Why did Mozart write for various Teutonic nobility in Italian?

Opera knows no limits.

WHY IS THE LIEUTENANT THERE?

As part of some American diplomatic presence. Prior to the Bakumatsu and the Meiji restoration, many Western powers, including the US, were trying to set up some sort of trade colonies in Japan, just like they were in China.

Afterwards, I'd presume he's some sort of military attache.

As for his being a lieutenant, seeing as the highest-ranking officer to negotiate a treaty with Japan back in 1853 was a commodore, being a commissioned officer at all over there was probably a big deal.

WHY DOES HE HAVE A FABULOUS HOUSE?

Because Japanese people were dirt-poor prior to the post-Meiji modernization. You could buy things in hundredths of a yen back then, and a yen still wasn't worth that much.

orieyenta said...

Oh pretty please will you go to the opera with me? I think your commentary would make any opera amusing...(ok, maybe not Faust but definitely one like Cosi Fan Tutte).

harley said...

Jewbiquitous Outing: Orieyenta at the Opera. What do you think, Annie? I am so totally in on crazy wild fun time at the opera. I'll even wear my dress up clothes.

Annie said...

Pedant- And the warship just hung out there, the whole time? It still doesn't explain why he'd feel the need to marry her. Why not just make her a mistress? I can understand why he'd be stationed there, but if he is affiliated with a ship he wouldn't be a millitary attache.

Also, they do mention that he got his bride for 100 yen, which, counting for inflation is something like $25.

Orieyenta- as Harley demonstrated, we are so down with the idea of going to the opera with you. We are lots of fun, and don't believe what Harley said, she dresses like a rock star 80% of the time.

The Pedant said...

You should try for an opera free for all day, when all tickets are $25 at the City Opera.

orieyenta said...

Jewbiquitous Outing: Orieyenta at the Opera.

Oooo - that would most certainly be the hightlight of any trip to NYC.