On Saturday, April 6th, and continuing with two more performances the next weekend, Pacific Opera Project will present a new production of Puccini’s beloved opera Madama Butterfly at the Artani Theatre in Little Tokyo. Originally written and traditionally sung in Italian, POP will be presenting the opera in a new, bilingual translation by POP director Josh Shaw and Eiki Isomura. In POP’s production, the American characters will sing their lines in English, while the Japanese characters, portrayed by Japanese-American singers, will sing in Japanese. Mr. Shaw answered some of our questions about the new production.
The LA Beat: Madama Butterfly in some ways seems like an opera that shouldn’t work in the 21st century at all. The score, written by an Italian who had never even set foot in Japan, would surely face charges of cultural appropriation were it written today. How does the opera transcend these origins to speak to a modern audience, both musically and dramatically?
The content I don’t worry about. We’re telling the story exactly as it was written. People can have their opinions about cultural appropriation, misrepresentation, and all the other baggage that comes with this show, but they need to remember that this is just a story — fiction. What this production does is tell the story in a more interesting, or at least more realistic, way. Those of us who know Madama Butterfly in and out are so accustomed to the complete lack of realism (Pinkerton and Butterfly speaking the same language), that it is almost impossible to distance ourselves from that convention. This production will force you to look at the story in a new context.
Lost? Occasionally you miss people singing the same words (vowels) in the duets and ensembles and the clarity and beauty that provides, but more often than not, it just sounds cool. Gained? A new understanding for the situation of both Pinkerton and Butterfly and just how lost both of them are at points in terms of being completely oblivious to what the other and those around them are saying to them and about them. Discovered? Just how ingrained the idea that everyone is somehow speaking the same language is in our minds as fans of this opera.
Performances are Saturday April 6 7:00 pm, Saturday April 13 7:00 pm, Sunday April 14 2:00 pm. At the Aratani Theatre, 244 San Pedro Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets $15-75. For more information, visit Pacific Opera Project on the web.