A Butterfly And The Opera

At The Seattle Opera

The Seattle Opera opened its 2017-2018 season with a production of Madame Butterfly written by Giacomo Puccini. All the action takes place in Japan, in the home of Cio-Cio-San, a young Japanese woman also known as Butterfly.

Puccini wrote Madama Butterfly at the turn of the 19th century and historical accuracy was not his main objective. It's opera, after all.

In today's overly sensitive atmosphere, some people might cry "cultural appropriation" because of the Japanese context. That's a little silly in opera.

Since when did opera resemble real life? Never.

Opera is some of the finest cosplay. Not only do you get to dress up as a character, you act out entire scenes complete with a live orchestra sawing away underneath the action.

Everything in opera is overly-dramatic, intensified and condensed into a few hours. It's filled with fantastical, over-the-top characters. In opera, it's best not to get too bogged down in reality.

The Heart Of The Opera

Not that the emotions aren't real. Morte (death), sangue (blood) and amore (love) are grand themes that cross all our lives. And let's not forget to add in a smattering of revenge and damnation!

The magic happens when the music begins. Grandiose emotions sweep through the opera house, carried on the voices of singers and the musical strains of the orchestra.

The nuance of a vocal phrase, the lift of the melody from the violins and a musical motif capture the mercurial moods of the operatic characters. Tumbling notes twirl us along the story of life.

As a live audience member, we have only to allow ourselves to be swept away in a suspension of disbelief and to let our hearts ride the tsunami wave of music washing over us.

Madame Butterfly's Story

Madama Butterfly captures all the essential operatic elements: love, happiness, crying, sorrow, despair and death. That's the story in a nutshell. 

In the early 1900s, Butterfly falls in love with Pinkerton, an American naval officer, and marries him in Japan. A real marriage for her and a sham for him. 

When Butterfly relinquishes her own culture for the American one of her husband, the razor sharp rejection of her own people slashes across her. Despite all odds, she stands firm in her love and devotion. 

Pinkerton departs before learning that Butterfly is pregnant with his son. She hears nothing more from him, but believes with all her heart that he will return for her. Hadn't he said so? While she waits, her initial innocence changes to the wise depths of a woman matured beyond her years. 

Credit: Seattle Opera Company

Butterfly's Sorrow

Three years later, Pinkerton finally returns to Japan... with his new American wife in tow. They've already been married for one year.

When Pinkerton and his wife learn of the boy, they want to take him with them to America. Butterfly understands her son will never have a chance in Japan with her alone.

Making the ultimate sacrifice of her love, Butterfly agrees to let Pinkerton take their child from her. From inside her crystalized anguish, she bids goodbye to her son.

Bereft of her culture and family, Butterfly's world, and by extension, that of her ancestors, can only be filled with dishonor now. She believes that to die with honor, rather than live with dishonor, is her only option.

Lianna Haroutounian – Lyric-Spinto Soprano

The Seattle Opera shared the title role of Butterfly with two sopranos and I had the good fortune to hear Lianna Haroutounian. Right from the start, her voice sailed effortlessly over the orchestra. In the audience, we relaxed, knowing we could drink in the rich tones without any strain to hear her. 

Haroutounian's voice is smooth and powerful on the high notes and her low register is strong and well-balanced. She has a wide range of vocal expression.

Haroutounian's smile as well as her tears light up the stage. Her sheer exuberance carries to the balconies as she swings her son high in the air when she learns Pinkerton's ship is in the harbor. Her entire body melts with dignified sorrow after a long night of waiting for a Pinkerton who never comes.

It's a demanding role with parts of it sung on her knees and she's on stage for nearly the entire opera.

Haroutounian gives a stellar performance. It's well worth attending more than once. 

Artwork of Madama Butterfly by Esther Wagner

Opera And Light

For students of The Radiance Technique® (TRT®): attending the opera is a perfect example of when you can sit back, relax and apply TRT® hands-on while listening to a performance. You can alternate between one hand on the heart and one on the abdomen or both hands crossed at the waist, or other comfortable positions.

For students of The Second Degree of The Radiance Technique®, it's possible to direct radiant energy to yourself while watching the show as well as the performers, members of the orchestra and fellow opera attendees. 

As we access real light, we can deepen our awareness and appreciation of the story and performance.