18 April 2016

Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Believe it or not, I haven't watched an opera before. I had an idea what it was about, basically, it was theatre, musical theatre, where every line is sung, and not spoken. I guess I was still too young to appreciate it before, so I didn't really try to see one, and even in Berlin, where I have been living for more than three years now, I didn't really watch one. Only when I visited Bergen, did I decide to see an opera. After all, I was on vacation, and when I checked the calendar, I saw that Puccini's Madama Butterfly was being performed while I was there, so I opted to check it out.

I bought a ticket online, and I just printed it and brought it with me. The opera is sung in Italian, and Norwegian translations were being projected above the stage. However, I don't understand either language, so I opted to do my research and study the story beforehand. I have to say that overall I liked it, though there were parts of it that I liked, and parts that I didn't.

The music was great: I never really am familiar with Puccini's music, as I was trained as a pianist and therefore wasn't really familiar with his works. The arias in the opera were powerful and really needed well-trained virtuoso singers for the part.

The plot was interesting, yet perhaps a little sexist. It seethes in exoticism, almost fetishizing the Orient, using women only temporarily, marrying local Oriental women just for convenience. But then again, that was how Europe viewed the Orient back in 1904, when this opera premiered.

The production on the other hand was a little anachronistic. I didn't know how to make of it. It deviated immensely from the original, and brought the story to the modern period. This means that there are cars on the stage, guns instead of a sword, and large neon billboards. Instead of Nagasaki, it looked like Hong Kong. And the weird thing is, the main character Cio-cio San, sings her arias in a Hello Kitty T-shirt and jeans. I don't know how I feel about that. Instead of being portrayed as a local woman, she looks like a foreign maid in Southeast Asia.

Anyway, anachronism aside, I think I enjoyed this opera. I think I enjoyed it enough that I would want to see another opera in the future.


  1. It's strange that the opera was translated. I don't remember it was the case in France when operas were sung in foreign languages (i.e. Wagner or Puccini).

    1. Zhu,

      They did sing the opera in the original language, in this case, Italian. But they provided Norwegian surtitles to it. I am not sure if that is the norm or not, but apparently here in Berlin, things are the same. They would sing the opera in the original language, and German and English translations would be projected above the screen like a movie.