Friday, October 24, 2008
Madame Butterfly - I can't forgive Pinkerton
It's been a crazy couple of days at work, so this post is a little belated, seeing as I saw Madame Butterfly on Wednesday, but it's still a good thing to think about so I'm writing about it anyway.
First off, here's a Reader's Digest synopsis of Madame Butterfly: This US Navy Lieutenant named Pinkerton wants a Japanese wife while working in Nagasaki. He negotiates a house and wife - his wife's name is roughly translated as Butterfly in English. He leaves her, telling her he'll be back in the spring.
Three years later he does come back, after everyone told her he wouldn't ever come back and she was unfailingly loyal, but the only reason he's back is to pick up the son they conceived while he was there three years ago. He says it's to give the son a better life in America with his new American wife. Butterfly is told of this plan and says Pinkerton can have their son if he comes to get him - Pinkerton bolted before she came out of her room. She kills herself just in time for Pinkerton to catch her dead body.
It was AMAZING - hands-down awe-inspiring. The colors, set, lights, costumes, emotion and the singing were all spell-binding. The little boy was especially well-trained and disciplined. He caught the audience's attention and hearts and kept it there when he was on stage - when he was supposed to be asleep, he would lay still even when the orchestra was going crazy, cymbals and all.
Getting to the discussion part of this post: there was an essay in the program about forgiving Pinkerton for his actions because he was young and foolish, sucked in by the contract culture of Japan; he thought his marriage would be a contract he could nullify anytime without undue consequences.
I don't buy it. As me and my mom talked about it, people can have character at any time of their life, and they should. Being young is no excuse for anything - especially marrying someone and then leaving them to wait for your arrival, which he promised would happen in less than a year. He knew what he was getting into. One of the conversations with his friend during the wedding scene is a warning to consider Butterfly's feelings and to not take the marriage lightly. How young would he have to be to have the responsibility of a lieutenant on a ship? Also, if all he wanted were *ahem* intimate relations, why didn't he just pick up a geisha instead of marry one? He said it was because he wanted to capture the Butterfly for good. How incredibly selfish can you get?
Even at the end, he supposedly wants what's best for his son by taking him to America with him, but he doesn't consider Butterfly at all. So, what is she supposed to do - go back to being a geisha? I love that his cowardice won't even allow him to face her until she's dying. Okay, I don't really. He says he's sorry for what he's done, but he can't even tell her that to her face.
I think Puccini probably painted him this way on purpose - as the antagonist of his opera - but even at the end when he's supposed to have his redemption, I wasn't feeling it. Are you?