[Statue of Giacomo Puccini, Glover Garden, Nagasaki]
Nagasaki was one of those places that got me thinking, and I love places like that.
I went to Glover Garden, an area which had been owned by Thomas Glover, the guy who started Kirin brewery. There's a display in one of the western style buildings about the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly.
I have to confess, I know Madame Butterfly primarily through teaching M. Butterfly. The basic idea of M. Butterfly is that it rethinks the ways that westerners (especially western men) conceive Asians as a feminized other. In the play (set in the 50s and forward) the western protagonist, Rene Gallimard, a French diplomat, has an affair with the Asian protagonist, Song Liling, a star in the Chinese Opera. But Song is really male (and playing a female in a cross-dressed role as was traditional), and a spy, and leads Gallimard to misinterpreting what's happening in China and Vietnam. As a result, he's recalled to France. Song, being no longer useful as a spy, is tortured by the Chinese government for homosexual behavior.
[Statue of Tamaki Miura, remembering her service and her playing of the role of Madame Butterfly]
Throughout, the play rethinks the opera, which involves an American officer in 19th century Nagasaki, who has an affair with a Japanese woman, Cio-Cio-San, "marries" her, but then leaves and since the marriage isn't recognized in the US, marries a US woman. Cio-Cio-San has a light-haired baby. He returns to Japan with his new American wife, and Cio-Cio-San realizes that she's been abandoned and kills herself.
Glover Garden has a big display, including a statue of Puccini. There's also a stature of the famous Japanese opera diva, Tamaki Miura, best known (according to the signage) for singing the part of Madame Butterfly. There's obvious pride in the opera connection here.
I'm fascinated. What does it mean that at least some people in Nagasaki see the opera as something worth celebrating while David Henry Hwang (and many other critics) sees it as a racist, stereotyping work?
The opera really focuses on a woman's story. The play takes that story, rethinks it, and makes it all about men.
While I was in Nagasaki, reading the signage, I was sort of under the impression that Puccini had written the part for Tamaki Miura, but she didn't make her operatic debut until about ten years after the opera opened, so I guess not. That would have added an interesting wrinkle, wouldn't it?