A Roll in the Universe

Website of Keera Ann Fox, an American in Bergen, Norway

Opera: Uhm, no

I can now compare the opera “Madama Butterfly” to the movie “Pulp Fiction”: Both were to take about 3 hours to get through, and in both cases I gave up after the first hour.

I’ve told people I’m not into opera or musicals. I don’t like my concerts interrrupted by story telling, and I don’t like my stories interrupted by singing. However, my season ticket included “Madama Butterfly”, which I’ve only heard about, so off I went to row 15, seat 34.

It didn’t take many minutes before I realized the drawback to singing a story. In Italian. To a Norwegian audience. Fortunately, high above the stage, was an an LED screen giving Norwegian translations of the libretto.

Look at what’s going on on the stage, or look up at the LED captions to find out what they’re singing so you can understand what’s going on on the stage. Tough choice.

I tried to find a way to get into the story or the stage or the music, but wasn’t getting any help from the production. A story set in Japan, with only one Asian, and everyone singing in Italian, made it impossible for me to believe I was somewhere in Nagasaki.

It also didn’t help that Cio-Cio-san—Madama Butterfly— was supposed to be a 15-year-old girl and the soprano playing her had shoulders like a wrestler.

(Another thing that kept me from focusing on the opera’s story was introducing the American Marine Pinkerton (who marries Mme. Butterfly) with what looked like US military recruiting films. Considering the war-mongering attitudes in the current US presidential race, this American felt a little disturbed. That was no fault of the opera itself.)

And the concert hall was practically sold out, so it was getting a bit warm and stuffy. In an attempt to ignore my growing physical discomfort and confused focus, I tried closing my eyes and just listen to the music.

The music. I didn’t like the music. There was no particular theme to it.

So then I really started to feel desperate, desperate for the intermission.

To my great relief and surprise, it came after the first act. I bolted out of there.

You may tell me that I should’ve stayed, because there are some great songs in Puccini’s opera. I will tell you that Puccini should’ve put one of those great songs in the first act, then.

Or maybe I just shouldn’t have had a glass of white wine before the show.

Naw. I really liked the wine.

4 Comments

  1. Chris McLaughlin

    2016-03-13 at 16:14

    Those screens…

    I like many arias. But I have the same problem with operas and ballet: the stories are often so ridiculous, and the whole can feel less than the sum of the parts.

    And as you say, there’s the disconnect between the imagined character and the performer.




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    • The story of “Madama Butterfly” is actually a good one, I think, but bad storytelling never helps. Someone else who saw the same production I did, said the problem was that they updated it to modern times and ruined the story.

      I do want to give the music a chance. I’ll see if I can find it streamed somewhere.




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  2. I can say I have never been to an opera. Maybe this is why.




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    • You may find operettas likable, like the Gilbert and Sullivan ones, or even Mozart’s. A bit of silliness while the fat lady sings always helps, I find.




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