You don’t need to read the 382 page National Opera Review Discussion Paper released last September to know that Puccini‘s Madama Butterfly is one of the most popular opera productions performed by Australia’s four major opera companies. These companies have had so many revivals of this production that most opera audiences must have seen it several times in their life times. Typically with beautiful music, costumes, sets and lighting, I can understand why people love this opera. Yet coming out of the theatre, watching audience members with tears in their eyes, listening to them excitedly discussing how beautiful their experience of the show had been, I have to say, crosses my grain. Being a woman of Japanese heritage in the year 2016, I have serious problems in accepting the way its archaic story-line continues to perpetuate stereotypes about Japanese women and their relationships with Western men.
I’m not blaming the opera companies, and certainly not our talented opera singers. The findings of the Discussion Paper suggests that these companies need to stage popular productions like Madama Butterfly to financially survive. Opera Australia has evolved and moved with the times in recent years too, casting talented Japanese and other Asian Australian sopranos for the part of Cio-Cio san instead of an European soprano in Orientalist traditions. But why do we need to continue to enjoy this spectacle that celebrates and beautifies suffering of this woman? Why are concepts of faithful waiting in perseverance for an impossible one sided love and its ultimate betrayal be enjoyed by so many?
My answer is not to criticise Puccini nor those involved in re-staging this 102 year old opera. Nor do I want to write a postcolonial and or feminist critique about Madama Butterfly and a host of other stories with a similar portrayal of Japanese women – its been done before, and relationships aren’t that simple.
My answer is to create a performance that may be able to address some of these issues that the continuing popularity of this opera presents to me, and in the process, re-imagine the way in which Japanese women and Western men relate to each other.
This is my new performance project for the next few years.
I am now old enough and ugly enough to write a love story.
Watch this space.