Last night I attended my first performance of the Puccini Opera classic Madam Butterfly. I had long wanted to see this chestnut—and see where those so familiar tunes fit into a story line. The tale ripped my heart out, but I left the opera house to go out into the blizzard struck at how a story that was first told 108 years ago remains as fresh today as ever. And it’s more politically relevant than it ever was, because when it first opened in 1904, it may not have seemed as politically incorrect as it is today.
How Puccini captured the American arrogance and the way we blithely ignore and exploit a native culture then move on thinking its ok to say I am sorry and this will torture me all my life is nothing short of genius. As I listened to the soundbites of George Bush and his final press conference on the drive home, I can hear BF Pinkerton and his final song. A montage of Madoff, and Cheney, and Condi Rice runs in my mind as the marriage takes place. Meanwhile, one hopes that Iraq will not commit Hari Kari as we move on to our next “wife,” Afghanistan.
I was physically ill with disgust and déjà vu as Sharpless stood by and merely wagged his head as Pinkerton committed statutory rape with full public pomp and circumstance. It was all right at the end of the 19th century to screw children. We are still doing it if the body count is even half way right. And so, in the way that great art does, the work resonates and sends ripples out into my mind and life. I said to my startled children that Madam Butterfly needs to be required viewing as part of military training. My kids think I’ll have a tough sell on that one, but maybe we could get the modern remake, Miss Saigon, on the curriculum.