Butterfly Operas

By premiering the first seating of Vancouver Opera’s Madama Butterfly on May 29, it can be claimed that is an event of Asian Heritage Month that spans the month of May.

I am still undecided about attending one of the shows and it will likely end up that I don’t get around to any of the remaining five shows after tonight, however well-received it is because I don’t want to go alone and I haven’t arranged it with one of very few girlfriends who would be willing to go.

Besides, I’ve already seen the film adaptation (from 1995, I believe) some years ago.

One thing I learned, that I should have known from having a self-touted keen sense of language and knowledge of French, is that there are two “butterfly operas” that are not the same thing.

Madama Butterfly, or Madame Butterfly, is a 1904 opera compose by Giacomo Puccini based in part on the 1898 short story “Madame Butterfly” by John Luther Long. It is a tragic story weaving together the concepts of Japanese honour, delving into the culture, and modern marriage and its collapse. I’m a little surprised that a modern opera depicting a less-than-heroic American man is the most-performed opera in the United States.

M. Butterfly, not to be confused with Mme. Butterfly, is a 1988 play by David Henry Hwang, an adaptation of the opera with which it shares part of a name. It should not in the least be confused with Puccini’s opera because “M.” is the French abbreviation for “Monsieur” and Butterfly in the Hwang play is a male opera singer who plays and can pass as female. The story, also tragic, is loosely based on a real relationship and tells of the story between a French civil servant and a male Beijing opera singer who is convincingly female. It seems like the play uses the common plot device where a protagonist does not realize his misconception while the audience knows early on and there is a big allusion to Mme. Butterfly in the end but with a post-modern twist.

At this point, I’m eager to watch both shows (not sure when the opportunity to watch M. Butterfly would arise) to visually differentiate them now that they are sorted out in my head!

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