Madama Butterfly by Puccini: young love is not always easy to navigate…

Met Opera House – Tuesday October 15th 2019–Lincoln Center

This week friends, we are back at the opera, to savor one of the most popular operas of all times, an enticingly beautiful, poetic and exotic love fairytale; turned pessimistic; yet delicate, dazzling, and passionate; a sizzling combination, when expressed with subtlety.

And what sublime Minghella production!

Of course, this masterpiece is brought to us by one of the great opera composers of all-time, Puccini; and depicts a complex love tale, based on a play, by the same title, from daring American playwright, Belasco, and loyal librettists Giacosa and Illica, who all knew a thing or two about life and love’s intricacies.

And Hui He, the exquisite Chinese, stellar, soprano, was just mind blowing as Cio-Cio-San, the love-struck geisha, who can’t stand finding out, her Pinkerton remarried; and so was the handsome, gorgeous, dreamy, italian tenor, Piero Pretti, (pun intended) as her charming Pinkerton, a naval officer, lover/husband, who deserts her, for another (wife); but comes back, three years later, for their child.

Oh boy!

Complex like life, but filled with the right intentions; and of course, they could do better in the end, and I’ll get to that, a little later.

Why not?

So of course, Madama B, it is not the most joyful of operas, but one nevertheless, filled with lovely magic and poetry; and of course, a truly moving, though devastatingly difficult love story, for all times. And one, that makes us think about ideal love stories.

Epic, beautiful and mesmerizing!

Yay!

An iconic story Madama B.; and I won’t get into the details of this legendary story that everyone knows by heart; except to say that it was exquisitely performed by two truly moving and complex characters: a sensitive, strong, yet fragile, loving, trusting, steady, truthful, yet at times also, desperate, young geisha; Butterfly; and a wonderfully seductive naval officer, who at times, forgot/forgets also (in my opinion), to honor his heart’s, best traits.

And fortunately at times, he did listen to his wonderful and tender heart, especially at the beginning; and when he did/does, he himself turns into the most exquisite “winged”, angelic partner.

Sigh…

So these two beautiful butterflies, when they listen to their lovely hearts, grow emotionally together, and transform themselves, into the most poetic beings, dripping with joy, laughter, and love, for one another.

Let’s take a look at what their wings look like, when these two characters allow themselves, to unfurl, and spread out, the array of beautiful colors that they each possess:

Awesomely beautiful isn’t it?

And in matters of love, especially true love, all one needs, is to believe whole heartedly in his/her feelings; and sometimes even create spells for ourselves; because it makes life so much more enjoyable and imaginative, and even sometimes, works; and then, it is up to the heroes, to feel it, the magic, in their actual lives, and act upon it, transform it, into love, so it can flourish beautifully, naturally and the heroes can then, also remember to nourish it, over time; because love, needs to be tended to, regularly; just like in this supernatural, yet undeniably sweepingly romantic, 1998 movie by Dunne, “Practical Magic”:

Sigh…

And of course, Halloween is around the corner, opening up portals, to even more magic, as if one said, supercalifragislisticexpodelious; it is, as if one said abracadabra!

And believe it or not, this expression does not just come from “Mary Poppins”; it was coined by a “smarty pants”, columnist, Herman; a young, lively lady, attending Syracuse University, and writing for the “Daily Orange”; whose article appeared on March 10th, 1931.

Here is the original definition, she gave to the word:

And in the 1964, Stevenson movie, it was used, as a way to convey cheer, and the idea, of all things, wonderful and amazing:

How delightful, loving and fun!

Which can also be sang with silliness, by this delightful “off the wall” talented quartet:

And that charm, still rings true today; the need to believe in magic, as the 2018 Marshall “Mary Poppins returns”, also embodied enchantment, childlike joys, and simple happiness:

And how wonderful, when the magic, then, just spontaneously, unfolds.

Of course, the beautiful good and golden hearted “fairy”, even gets flowers:

How charming!

Yay!

And I think this “supercal” notion of magic, from 1931, also influenced Fleming’s 1939 “Good witch of the North” Glinda character, who as a zen master, arrives in her pink bubble; because I think Glinda, is as iconic as this novelist witty, tortured, gag-ridden comment, on the empire of American gum.

“He crammed a generous chunk of the mix in his mouth and blew a bubble. The bubble rose, rose higher. It was a big beautiful bubble, … a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious bubble”. 
— Robert Hendrickson, “The great American Chewing gum book” (1976)

Now let’s watch Glinda; and ponder on her baffling, yet philosophical words, which to me, convey the notion that one should believe in one’s talents and abilities; that you can find “in your own backyard”; and that you should never doubt your power, since you have it within you; but it’s up to every individual, to make something of themselves; even in the most complex circumstances; one can do it; one will also meet partners/friends along the way; some will stay a while, some forever; some will inhabit their real world, as well as their spiritual imaginative journey: for example the tin man, the lion, and the scarecrow in Dorothy’s real life on the farm, are farm hands, that are her protectors and friends; and who love her, just as she is.

Isn’t it it awesome for her, that she can keep some of the most important people in her life/lives?

And “home” has various meanings, of course; and to me, like many, it includes also, a place in one’s heart.

And everyone in my opinion, has to think responsibly, and with trust, joy, and hard work, about their fate, and also, believe in magic!

How about that!

Now let’s watch one of the most cryptic, yet awesome scene, of this iconic 1939 Fleming film “The Wizard of Oz”, which in my mind, explains why, this film, is one the most loved movie, ever, by a huge amount of Americans:

Enjoy and weep:

Isn’t it just fantastic?

I just love it!

And then, when one believes in magic, and supernatural beings (way more fun), “butterflies” can be found everywhere; including on cherry blossom branches, soaking up the scintillating spring; like in Mary Poppins; or in Nagasaki, home of Madama B.

The land of the rising sun, where dreams can be wonderful, just like in this NYCB Robbins ballet, which I admired last Sunday as well, at Lincoln Center:

Here is also, an excerpt, of a snippet of the life, of one of the most talented young and beautiful NYCB choreographer, Lauren Lovette, who has her head in the clouds, and her feet planted firmly, in reality; and her latest “The Shaded Line” choreography (which I also saw last Sunday), set to Chinese classical musician, Tan Dun’s, magical “Fire Ritual” score, for me; is also a ballet that Madama B. would have found wonderful, for its poetry and light; and would have helped her perhaps, to gather the necessary courage to deal with the obstacles in her life, instead of choosing darkness.

Enjoy this inspirational clip about art, and creative brain work:

And of course Tan Dun’s music, reminds me also, of other wonderful films, Dun has worked on, about training heroes; which could have been an inspiration as well, for Madama B.

Fo example, Ang Lee’s 2000 “Crouching Tiger, hidden dragon”, film about becoming authentic heroes, when facing great challenges:

How inspiring!

And Tan Dun also worked, on some of the scoring of Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” (2012), about an unnamed fighter, being honored, for defeating dangerous ennemies.

I think Madama B. would have been inspired!

Aren’t you?

Because Madama B., by the end of the story feels trapped, isolated and humiliated, and as doomed, a person, as if she had committed a violent crime; I would have had her watch, this wonderful movie, about rehabilitation, that can always spring in someone’s life, and help them open up, a new rewarding page, in the “book “of their life.

A breathtakingly movie, by Clermont Tonnerre, let’s watch the trailer for her 2019 film, “The Mustang”:

Because Madama B’s sadness, at times of course, would have needed to be counterbalanced, by fun and imaginative joys, to get her out of her predicament.

And what better way, to enchant her Pinkerton, than by remembering, that she is a woman; and as such, she can be inspired by other beautiful “butterflies”; always happy, when lively; flapping their wings, and while responsible, often also, enjoying themselves. It is like planting a seed, then the trees appear, and ultimately, a forest grows.

And her wonderful Pinkerton, I am sure would have been moved, by such display of imagination, beauty, backbone, and intelligence.

Because she has to remember, that she, Madama B., the gorgeous geisha, bewitched her Pinkerton, as soon as they met, in her beautiful home; and not just for her physical attributes, but also, for her dazzling, pure soul.

Aw….

How romantic!

Sometimes, it happens almost instantly, as Victor Hugo knew as well.

So our Madama B., this beautiful butterfly, has to remember, how charming she was/is, physically and personality wise.

Just like in this iconic film “Gilda” by Vidor (1946). Dream away, in front of such magic and talent!

Of course Madama B., could have been inspired by these two other beauties, that ressemble sparkling passionate butterflies, as well. From”Gentlemen prefer blondes” by Howard Hawks (1953), let’s admire two charming ruby “gems”, twirling like fairies:

And these three butterflies, like the three graces, Rita, Marilyn and Jane, or as the following poem, would have surely bedazzled Pinkerton, who also loved to dance, with his Madama B.

And of course, often times, Madama B’s Pinkerton, was also, for his Butterfly, an astounding poet: let’s read and dream away:

Sigh…

Even if his mind, sometimes, did doubt, his own heart:

Because Pinkerton’s love for his Butterfly was so instantaneous, pure and powerful; he feared, he might not recover from it.

So Pinkerton would show her, his butterfly; with gestures, his sweet feelings:

….

Or Pinkerton would show his butterfly as well, his sensitive side, with lovely rainy encounters, such as this imaginative one, from “Jack and the Cuckoo clock heart” (2013) from Malzieu and Berla.

Let’s dream away:

Let’s get back to Puccini, and his Madama B.

Let’s get back specifically, to the heart throbbing passion, between Madama B. and her Pinkerton.

Breathtaking…

Let’s read now, what Madama B. (who in my imagination has lots of talents), and who might have thought she was a mermaid; let’s read what she could have also, offered her Pinkerton, to make him dream: a lovely poem by Supervielle.

La mer secrète

Quand nul ne la regarde,

La mer n’est plus la mer,

Elle est ce que nous sommes

Lorsque nul ne nous voit.

Elle a d’autres poissons,

D’autres vagues aussi.

C’est la mer pour la mer

Et pour ceux qui en rêvent

Comme je fais ici.”

And to Pinkerton, Madama B., in the opera, was also, at times, an orange blossom, in addition to many other beautiful incarnations:

How lovely!

How magical!

As well as a dazzling colorful butterfly, that he admired, as soon as the sun rose…

How romantic!

And Pinkerton knew that they were happy, him and his butterfly; because of all the charming, simple, yet soul inspired gifts, for one another:

How beautiful and delicate…

Let’s read another delightful poem by Supervielle, magical about the joy of discovery and imagination:

L’espérance

“Dans l’obscurité pressentir la joie,

Savoir susciter la fraîcheur des roses,

Leur jeune parfum qui vient sous vos doigts

Comme une douceur cherche un autre corps.

Le coeur précédé d’antennes agiles,

Avancer en soi, et grâce à quels yeux,

Eclairer ceci, déceler cela,

Rien qu’en approchant des mains lumineuses.

Mais dans quel jardin erre-t-on ainsi

Qui ne serait clos que par la pensée ?

Ah pensons tout bas, n’effarouchons rien,

Je sens que se forme un secret soleil”. 

Just sublime!

 …

How lovely, to have celebrated his Madama B., so charmingly!

Sigh…

 …

Just delightful!

Magical!

 …

Lovely; like his Madama B.

Enchanting; like fluttering wings…

Pretty; Madama B.; like origami.

Just charming…

So pretty…

So elegant…

Just ravishing; Madama B. …

Poetic and feminine; Madama B.

And responsible too.

Just like her dashing Pinkerton…

Pinkerton, who just like his Madama B., liked/likes also, sweet smelling roses…

And also, of course, captivating violets …

Let’s get back, to my two favorite moments, of our opera.

Beautifully produced by Minghella, let me remind you …

Let’s listen to one of the most moving moments, between Butterfly and her Pinkerton:

Poetic and magical…

Let’s read Pinkerton’s thoughts on his Madama B., and a few of their charming dialogues:

PINKERTON
I don’t know! It depends
on the degree of infatuation!
Love or passing fancy –
I couldn’t say.
She’s certainly bewitched me
with her innocent arts.
Delicate and fragile as blown glass,
in stature, in bearing
she resembles some figure on a painted screen,
but as, from her background of glossy lacquer,
with a sudden movement
she frees herself; like a butterfly
she flutters and settles
with such quiet grace
that a madness seizes me
to pursue her,
even though I might
damage her wings.SHARPLESS
The day before yesterday she came
to visit the Consulate.
 
I didn’t see her myself
but I heard her speak.
The mystery of her voice
touched me to the heart.
True love surely
speaks like that.
It would be a great sin
to strip off those delicate wings
and perhaps plunge a trusting heart into despair.
That heavenly, meek, pretty, little voice
shouldn’t utter a note of sadness!

PINKERTON

There’s no great harm done
if I want those wings
to be spread in love’s tender flight!

VOICE OF BUTTERFLY
I am the happiest
girl in Japan,
or rather, in the whole world.
Friends, I have come
at the call of love…

I have come to the portals of love
where is gathered the happiness
of all who live and die.

GIRLS’ VOICES
Joy to you, sweet friend,
but before crossing
the threshold which draws you,
turn and look at
the things which you hold dear,
look at all that sky,
all those flowers and all that sea!

PINKERTON
With those childlike ways,
when she talks she sets my blood on fire.

SHARPLESS
No lovelier girl have I ever seen
than this Butterfly.
And if you don’t take this contract
and her trust seriously…

PINKERTON
Yes, it’s true, she’s a flower, a flower,


Pinkerton takes Butterfly’s hand.)

PINKERTON
Come, my love,
do you like our little house?

BUTTERFLY
Mr. B. F. Pinkerton, excuse me…
I would like.. a few woman’s possessions…

PINKERTON
Where are they?

BUTTERFLY
They’re here…you don’t mind?
(She produces various small objects from the capacious sleeves of her kimono.)

PINKERTON
Why ever should I, my pretty Butterfly?

BUTTERFLY
Handkerchiefs. Pipe.
A sash. A little clasp.
A mirror. A fan.

PINKERTON
What’s that pot?

BUTTERFLY
A jar of rouge. PINKERTON
Oh dear!

BUTTERFLY
Don’t you like it?
(She throws it away.)
Away with it!

PINKERTON
And that?

BUTTERFLY
My most sacred possession.

PINKERTON
And mayn’t one see it?

BUTTERFLY
There are too many people.
Forgive me. PINKERTON
These puppets? You said?

BUTTERFLY
They are the spirits of my ancestors.

PINKERTON
Oh! My respects.

BUTTERFLY
Yesterday I went, alone
and in secret, to the Mission.
With my new life
I can adopt a new religion.
My uncle, the Bonze, doesn’t know,
neither do my people.
I follow my destiny
and, filled with humility,
I kneel before
Mr. Pinkerton’s God.
It is my fate.
In the same little church,
beside you on my knees,
I will pray to the same God,
and to please you I may perhaps be able
to forget my own people.
My dearest love!

….

Oh boy!

Let’s now listen, to the beautiful duet excerpt, from “Madame Butterfly”, by Frédéric Mitterrand (1995) …

Let’s first read, what she thinks about hands…

So romantic!

PINKERTON
What are you doing? My hand?

BUTTERFLY
I’ve been told that over there
among well-bred people
it’s a sign
of the greatest respect.

Yet so passionate, like supernatural beings…

Passion found as well, in the poetry of moonlight, for these two happy and young (including at heart) love birds …

So moving…

Sigh…

Let’s read some more; of the poetic libretto:

(Pinkerton approaches Butterfly, who has finished
dressing.)

Dear child, with eyes full of witchery,
now you are all mine.
You’re dressed all in lily-white.
I love your dark tresses
amid the white of your veils.BUTTERFLY
I am like the moon-goddess,
the little goddess of the moon,
who comes down at night
from the bridge of heaven.PINKERTON
And captivates all hearts…
 
BUTTERFLY
…and takes them and folds them
in a white cloak.
And carries them away
to the higher regions.PINKERTON
But meanwhile, you haven’t told me yet,
you haven’t told me you love me.
Does that goddess know the words
that satisfy burning desire?BUTTERFLY
She does. Maybe she’s unwilling
to say them for fear of dying of it,
for fear of dying of it!

PINKERTON
Foolish fear –
love does not kill,
but gives life and smiles
for heavenly joy,
as it does now
in your almond eyes.

BUTTERFLY
For me you are now
the eye of heaven.
And I liked you from the first moment
I set eyes on you.
You are tall and strong.
You laugh out so heartily.
And you say things
I’ve never heard in my life before.
I’m happy now, so happy. Love me with a little love,
a child-like love,
the kind that suits me.
Love me, please…
We are a people used to small,
modest, quiet things,
to a tenderness gently caressing,
yet vast as the sky
and as the waves of the sea.PINKERTON
Give me your dear hands
and let me kiss them!
My Butterfly!
How aptly you were named,
fragile butterfly!BUTTERFLY
They say that overseas
if it should fall into the hands of man
a butterfly is stuck through
with a pin
and fixed to a board!

PINKERTON
There’s some truth in that;
and do you know why?
So that it shouldn’t fly away again.
I’ve caught you…
Quivering, I press you to me.
You’re mine.

BUTTERFLY
Yes, for life.

And now let’s listen the two most exquisite passages of this long excerpt, found at 3:35 and 7: 37.

Let’s watch and dream…

Sigh…

And this second aria, is probably my favorite; where Butterfly is awaiting with immense faith, for the return of her sweetheart, her Pinkerton; and she can barely stand it, as she has not seen him, in three years…

Oh boy!

Let’s read the poetic and yet heart-breaking text, for those of us who know, how tragically the story will actually end, for Madama B.

Devastatingly sad…

BUTTERFLY

One good day, we will see
Arising a strand of smoke
Over the far horizon on the sea
And then the ship appears
And then the ship is white
It enters into the port, it rumbles its salute.

Do you see it? He is coming!

I don’t go down to meet him, not I.
I stay upon the edge of the hill
And I wait a long time
but I do not grow weary of the long wait.

And leaving from the crowded city,
A man, a little speck
Climbing the hill.
Who is it? Who is it?
And as he arrives
What will he say? What will he say?
He will call Butterfly from the distance
I without answering
Stay hidden
A little to tease him,
A little as to not die.
At the first meeting,
And then a little troubled
He will call, he will call
“Little one, dear wife
Blossom of orange”
The names he called me at his last coming.
(To Suzuki)
All this will happen,
I promise you this
Hold back your fears –
I with secure faith, will wait for him”.

Let’s now listen to this beautiful, iconic aria, sung here, by astounding Mirella, my favorite soprano for this aria!

Just sublime!

And I think that Madama B. and her Pinkerton, by the end of the opera, should have had, instead of tragedy; an adult conversation, about the state of their relationship, instead of unnecessary drama.

And both of them, should have sung to each other, over the years, more songs; and sent thoughtful gestures to each other; including one, inspired by Beethoven!

Enjoy!

You get the picture!

And after all of this, it would have been time, for Butterfly and her Pinkerton, to make a decision, about their future together:

First possibility: they could have chosen to remain close friends, and raise their son together, alongside wife number 2, and that would have been a great solution.

Second possibility: they should have tried to see, if “sparks” still flew between them, like in this “off the wall” excerpt of Maguire’s (2001) “Bridget Jones Diary” film; because then, who knows, what future would have awaited them, as a family as well?

Hopefully a “Supercalifrag….” future…

And finally, to end this long and romantic post, let’s now “hear”, from a different Pinkerton (Darcy), and his “Butterfly” (Bridget Jones); its a stretch of course; but who cares, dreaming is so marvelous; like these two characters…

Charming, imperfect, but so in love!

Enjoy!

Soft…

Fluttering…

Imaginative…

Joyful…

Happy…

Peaceful…

Loving…

Eternal butterflies 😊