a Cycle of Flower Songs (5 – Puccini)

Is Madama Butterfly (1904) colonialist, mythological, camp, or something else?  Should it be discussed in a political, tragic, performative, or (say) feminist frame of reference?  Does the leading role of this tragedia giapponese call for a geisha, gaia, gay, or Galatea?  Should she be identified with Cio-Cio-San, Medea, M.Butterfly, or Maria Callas?

Near the end of Act II, 18-year old Butterfly learns that the young American naval officer whom she married three years earlier, in 1904, is returning to Nagasaki, her city.  Overwhelmed with joy, she and her faithful, older maid Suzuki shake the trees in the garden and decorate the house, strewing spring flowers everywhere and singing the duet “Tutti i fior?”  The soft rain of petals creates a synaesthetic atmosphere of sound, sight, touch, smell and perhaps even taste.  The faithful wife will not embrace her husband again, since he has deserted her for another woman, but in this instance the flood of flowers resonates with ethereal eroticism.

May 15, 2015

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