Madame Butterfly

So, I've never really listened to Opera, I never went as a kid, being as they don't probably have a lot of opera houses on Army bases, you know, or small towns. And most of my personal taste I developed by buying CDs I knew nothing about - well, I knew I wasn't interested in buying the 'Best Arias Ever!' CD, and to actually BUY an opera is a pretty big investment in something that a lot of people proclaim to be dull as sticks. I'm still not very good at listening to it, but after going to an opera recently with my dearie, and after getting a small-ish Nova Scotia over the Ring of the Niebelungen, after naming a programming project Siegreud (long story...), I've checked some out from the library.

This week, I listened to Madam Butterfly, and OH what a sad story! The music is a very different sort of genius, from someone who knows nothing about what he's listening to, because not knowing a lick of Italian, and with only the Wikipedia synopsis of the plot, I could not only tell exactly what was happening when (and this was while answering phones and working tickets at the office!), my little brain could perfectly see the staging of the entire production. The most heart-wrenching part for me wasn't when she sings "To die with honor, when one can no longer live with honor", it was when she blindfolds her child, and gives her a doll and an American flag, and you hear this little trinkling background notes from the Star-Spangled Banner - it was terrible! It's a lucky thing I was on the 'working tickets' part, then, not the 'answering the phone' part... ;).
Anyway, the greatest irony of the whole thing, I guess, is that I almost felt ashamed in admitting how enjoyable the whole thing was. It's not the whole 'Guys don't like opera' or anything like that. It was more that normally when I've heard someone talk about this or that opera, my knee jerk reaction is to think they sound snobbish. Like they're showing off that they can enjoy the old boring version of television, while the rest of us are only capable of laughing at Seinfeld. Of course that's ridiculous, but in some sense, Opera, like Jazz, seems to be spiralling towards the slow death of artsiness. It's so funny to read about the student-bohemians going to the opera for an evening lark 100 years ago, and then think how dignified and precise Opera is in the modern mindset. Opera singers are all trained in being precise and perfect, and in keeping the technique used 150 years ago, it seems. It makes me wonder what it would be like if Opera actually grew and changed, instead of becoming a museum piece, like Jazz has become, where wild-minded tortured geniuses are pushed out by legions of hackneyed technically talented copycats. Of course, this is all nothing at all, as I haven't exactly listened to enough opera to know if new composers are putting out genius works, but the point still seems to stand that people GOING to the opera want to see the standbys, there is no longer a market, it seems for beautiful new things. Like Jazz.
Not that the standbys aren't gorgeous - Madama Butterfly, for instance. But they're dying, slowly, because there is no relevance anymore, no growth.


Amanda said...

Madame Butterfly was the only non-comedic opera that I liked as a kid, but I didn't know much about what was going on. I think I saw it in early middle school, at the sunken gardens theatre.