~By Lynne Gray, Ph.D.~
You won’t want to miss seeing this breathtakingly beautiful production designed by Anthony Minghella and featuring Bunraku traditional Japanese puppetry along with the live singers. Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is one of the world’s best-loved and most-performed operas, not only because of its astonishingly lyrical beauty, but also because of its wholly believable story – a heartrending tragedy brought on by imperialism and the clash of different cultures.
At the turn of the last century in the Japanese port city of Nagasaki, a 15-year-old geisha named Cio-Cio-San agrees to an arranged marriage with the young American Navy Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton. Cio-Cio-San is truly in love with Pinkerton and believes that her marriage to him is sacred and permanent. Even when he leaves her to return to his ship and America, she believes he will come back. In one of opera’s most famous soprano arias, “Un Bel Di,” she tries to convince her loyal servant, Suzuki, that one beautiful day, he will return to her.
And, of course, he does – but only to Japan, and not to her, bringing with him his American wife. As the last act unfolds, Cio-Cio-San understands that she cannot any longer live with honor and so instead, must die with honor – hoping to secure for her son a better life in America. The cast features Hui He as Cio-Cio-San, Andrea Carè as Pinkerton and Tony Award winning (for South Pacific), Paulo Szot, as Sharpless, the sympathetic American Consul in Nagasaki.
Madama Butterfly will be performed at the Summit Sierra, Riverside 12, and the Galaxy Fandango in Carson City on Saturday, November 9, 2019. Encore performances are scheduled for the following Wednesday and Saturday at the Summit Sierra and Riverside 12. It’s best to check with these theaters for the encore performances as times may change.
A Note on Bunraku
The Met dips its talented hand into Bunraku, traditional Japanese puppet theater, to create the role of Cio-Cio-San’s son named Sorrow. (When her lover Pinkerton comes back she will name him Joy.) Bunraku probably originated in Central Asia in the 11th Century. The name Bunraku comes from an early 19th Century puppet master named Uemura Bunrakuken who organized a puppeteer troupe and modernized the art form.
While Bunraku puppets are normally half-size Cio-Cio-San’s puppet son is larger than life-size probably so he can be better seen by the audience. He is operated by three puppeteers dressed in black to obscure them. This allows them to work the puppet so as to give it life-like emotions and movements. This short film clip shows how: