Last night I went to the opera for the first time in quite some time. For some reason I fell off going and I have no idea. I went to see Madama Butterfly at the Kennedy Center. I couldn’t get tickets to one of the regular showing so I had to go to the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist presentation. The young artists are basically singers who are very junior in their career.
Unfortunately, I had the worst seat in the house. I was way in the back under this overhang where I couldn’t see the supertitles. It’s not really that bad because I know the story but sometimes you miss some nuances because you don’t have the script along with it. I was also next to the most ghetto set of people I’ve ever seen in my life. Usually there aren’t too many black people in the audience, but you do see some. Black people appreciate opera too, and it was obvious in these two hood chicks. I guess this is a lesson to me not to judge people because I would have never thought these two trashy, loud talking hoodrats would be into opera. One lady had her shoes off and she was massaging her feet the whole show. It was aggravating. She was also texting. That’s just rude. I would go into some of her conversation (she was so loud I could not help but to overhear) but the point of this post is to talk about the show.
The show itself was mediocre, at least the first half was. I was unimpressed by the staging. I expected something far more elaborate. I fear opera going is dying off and the budget for its presentation and upkeep are strained just like everything else. Despite its simplicity I still got a deep impression of Japan and that made me very sad, especially since the conductor said a few words about the disaster and then played the Japanese national anthem. Of course, I am not Japanese, but I grew up there. I cannot go around saying I’m from Japan when I am obviously not Japanese, but I’m from Japan. I spent all my childhood years there. I get so sad just thinking about what has happened.
As mentioned before, Young Artists are those that are new in their careers, so they don’t have quite that polishing that more mature performers have. In the beginning, the young soprano Sarah Mesko failed to move me. She sounded shrill and breathless most of the time. I think, though, after the first act someone must have taken her backstage and slapped her around a little bit because she sounded much stronger in the second and third act.
For those that are unfamiliar with the story of Madama Butterfly, it is a depressing tale about a woman who loves a man who doesn’t love her back. This is an Italian opera by Giacomo Puccini who was a master at tragedies.
Beautiful Cio-Cio-san (which means Butterfly) has attracted the attentions of Pinkerton, an American lieutenant stationed in Nagasaki, Japan. He marries her but in his mind he is already thinking that it won’t be permanent. He needs something to amuse him while he’s in Japan. Of course he does not tell this to Butterfly. She’s like the typical woman, all excited about her wedding and thinks it’s gonna be happily ever after. She prepares for her new life with her husband by renouncing her religion and vowing to become as American as possible. She doesn’t want to be called Madama Butterfly, but Mrs. Pinkerton. Naturally, when a woman gives up her old life someone is bound to be pissed. Her uncle Bonze comes to the wedding and curses her for giving up the old ways in favour of this American.
Called away for duty, Pinkerton leaves Japan and is gone for three years. Butterfly is waiting patiently like nothing serious is wrong. In those days polite Japanese women did not work and the money Pinkerton had left her is slowly dwindling away. Suzuki, Buttefly’s maid tells her that perhaps she should get some occupation but Butterfly just knows that Pinkerton is going to come back and save them all. Everyone is talking behind her back. They think that Pinkerton has deserted her. A handsome prince begins to court Butterfly, but she refuses him. Pinkerton’s friend Sharpless is like, “Butterfly, really, I don’t think Pinkerton is coming back.” He reads her a letter that suggests that this is true. Butterfly is shocked. “He’s forgotten me? He’s forgotten our son?” Sharpless can’t even finish the letter because Butterfly is so depressed.
A little while later, a cannon shot announces the return of Pinkerton’s ship. Butterfly just knows that once Pinkerton hears of his son (he left before he was born) he will return to her. She gets all dressed up, dresses her son up and then goes to stand by the door to await him. She stood there all afternoon, all evening and all night and into the morning waiting for him and he never showed up. Later on, he does show up–with his new wife. Butterfly is devastated. Pinkerton is actually quite sorry that he has hurt Butterfly but he has a new life, and he wants to take his son with him. Butterfly realises there is no point in trying to reason with him. He will give the boy a better life than she ever could. She agrees to give up her son if he will come back in 30 minutes. While he is gone, Butterfly prepares to kill herself. She sings to her son and tells him not to forget her. Just as Pinkerton is coming back, Butterfly stabs herself and dies.
Like I said, Puccini is a master of tragedy. His best operas are the ones where someone dies at the end.
I think this is the end of the season for me. There was nothing else that I was particularly interested in seeing. Unless I can get some cheap tickets to something else, I’ll probably wait until the 2011-2012 season before going back.