Thursday, March 23, 2017
The Dallas Opera, 2403 Flora Street, Suite 500, Dallas, Texas 75201
Spanish version available in Relatos Sin Contrato.
Having wings doesn’t mean you can fly. This is especially true about Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, which is staged on 1904’s Nagasaki and has three acts. The libretto was originally written in Italian by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. The plot is based on a short story by John Luther Long.
The opera’s main character is Cio-Cio San (Madame Butterfly), a 15-year old Japanese girl who gets engaged to B. F. Pinkerton, a US Navy lieutenant stationed in Japan. The plot revolves around freedom and draws an analogy to Rousseau’s maxim: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Butterfly can break away from her duties and customs, but not from her feelings, which would end up destroying her.
Pinkerton owns the house as he owns the wife, and yet cancelling both contracts would come very easy to him. An analogy can be drawn to the ninth commandment (“Thou shalt not covet thy neighour’s wife”) as if females and property were one and the same.
Pinkerton is obviously not in love with Cio-Cio San but longs to get back to America to remarry. Butterfly proves her love once and again fighting against familial pressures (represented by his uncle Bonze), renouncing her ancestral religion, nationality, and family, embracing Christianity, bearing Pinkerton’s son, rebuking her maid Suzuki’s advices, and rejecting Prince Yamadori’s proposal after Pinkerton leaves to America.
After being inconsolable for several years, Cio-Cio San gets a glimpse of hope when she learns that Pinkerton is returning to Japan. She commits suicide when she finally realizes that her feelings are not simply not reciprocated but intended for someone else: Kate Pinkerton. Pinkerton gets temporarily taken aback once he understands how much Butterfly really loves him but one couldn’t help but think that Pinkerton was not genuine or moved by emotion but by regret, remorse, and guilt.
Madame Butterfly is more a clash of feelings than it is a clash of cultures. Puccini is the Bel canto (beautiful singing) composer who never labeled himself so. His aria “Un Bel Di Vedremo (On Fine Day We Shall See)” would be enough to prove it. Puccini inserts a wide number of popular tunes within his operas, such as Tosca’s E Lucevan Le Estelle and Turandot’s Nessun Dorma.