Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Douglas Messerli | "A Kind of Turandot" (on Puccini's Madama Butterfly)
a kind of turandot
by Douglas Messerli
Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (libretto, based on the play by David Belasto cand the story by John Luther Long), Giacomo Puccini (composter) Madama Butterfly / the production I saw with Howard Fox was the live HD broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera production on April 2, 2016
Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton—named perhaps for Franklin’s reportedly licentious behavior in his Paris days—has arranged his marriage with Cio-Cio-San with the same bemusement that he has arranged for the 999-year rental of their Nagasaki home. From the very beginning this barbarian, it is clear, has utterly no intention of keeping his marriage contract with the 15-year old girl. At least Humbert Humbert stayed with his Lolita as long as he was permitted to. Pinkerton openly jokes about having a woman in every port and “dropping his anchor” around the world, using the words obviously as a metaphor for sexual dalliance.
Pinkerton not only makes it clear that someday he will break the marriage contract with Cio-Cio-San by marrying an American woman, but he does not even attempt to hide the fact his interest in the young innocent (played this time round by a rather robust adult beauty, Kristine Opolais) is a product of simple lust. Perhaps I missed it in the early Met production, but this time I was struck by how clearly that lust was expressed as he sneaks a view through the Japanese screens of his young bride getting undressed. Even though he already possesses her, it is clear that his interest in the underage beauty is the product merely of, as my companion Howard honestly expressed it, a hard-on.
Opolais described her character as representing the highest attainment of womanhood: a woman who is beautiful, loving, passionate, loyal, forgiving. Cio-Cio-San does not even put blame on Pinkerton’s wife, but suggests that she should be the happiest of all beings, since she will now have everything, while Cio-Cio-San will have nothing.
In the end, it appeared to me, seeing the opera again, that if Cio-Cio-San remains an innocent, by opera’s end she has also become a kind of Turnadot.
Los Angeles, April 4, 2016