Review: ‘M. Butterfly’ Metamorphoses Again, as an Opera

Santa Fe, New Mexico — “M. Butterfly” Broadway hitThe Representational Basin of Asian-Americans, Film, and, recently, a revised version of the original play.

Well, here at Saturday’s premiere santa fe opera Adapted by the composer Huang Ruoscripted david henry fanthe author of the play, Butterflies, returned to the chrysalis of the opera.

It was unavoidable. Fan came up with the Tony Award-winning 1988 screenplay, which used the Orientalist stereotype of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly as a mirror to portray French diplomat Bernard Brusico (to René Galimard) for 20 years. (renamed) drama) continued her relationship with Chinese opera singer and spy Shi Pei Pu (renamed Song Liling), but in a maddening espionage case, it turns out that “she” was “him” all along. I found

Fan empires and smash reveals of race, gender and dominance can always be read as a reflection on Puccini and the prejudices it still perpetuates, and as a real-life narrative gloss. Find the right composer who can blend talent while maintaining the elusive quality that characterizes the play. The opportunity was clear.

A Chinese-born professor at the Mannes School of Music, Huang said his work, which often integrates Eastern and Western influences into a distinctive personal style, was his best bet to become a composer. is almost certain.

But the chance is missed.

“M. Butterfly” had good potential to fly in Santa Fe. Postponed by his two years due to the pandemic, James Robinson’s work is simple, but makes good use of wise predictions by Greg Emmetaz, and moves effortlessly between the personal and the geopolitical. . The French and Americans in Vietnam, and the Song shift is with that of the Chinese Communist Party. carolyn quan Act with empathy, if not the rhythmic precision that a heart-pounding score requires.

The cast is also a sample. Mark Stone makes a suitably worn, deranged Galimard, singing a prickly vocal line in striking fashion. Especially Hongni Wu’s hilarious Comrade Chin and Kevin Burdette’s witty bureaucratic Ambassador to China.

all must bow Kangmin Justin Kimits drag performance is kimchiria bartoli It must have helped portray the Song Dynasty with the tremendous conviction he displayed here.Chocho-san’s than a reliable song “Umberdi” The other soprano excerpts from Puccini, the charming and ringing tone of this remarkable countertenor, and the acting sensibility he displays as he plays with Galimard’s delusions and explores Song’s own sexuality are artists to watch. announced.

The problem is that “M. Butterfly” runs deeper, the same difficulties fans grappled with when they rewrote the script to return to Broadway in 2017. Butterflies’ change with them and still stay true to themselves?

That’s not to say Huang’s early themes are now irrelevant. Far from it. Violence against Asian women is incredibly entrenched, and there is still considerable value in challenging the butterfly stereotypes that sustain it. Butterfly” and “Turandot”.

But the play itself serves to expose the relevant complexities of sexism, racism, and imperialism, which have since become familiar and the narrative has worn off. The old question of whether or not Galimard knew Song was male is hardly exciting. Otherwise, “M. Butterfly” still achieves its goal of showing us what we should do. Either way, it’s hard to get too deep into a moody, repressed central character, and opera asks very little of us.

So what’s left? “M. The play ‘Butterfly’ has always had ambiguity and illusion at its core. His version of this opera seeks to further deconstruct the binary, especially through Song characters. Fluidity wash; power blurs as East meets West. Metaphors build on tropes. There is a distance here from the original material, and the opera takes on a kind of deliberately analytical air.

It’s more of a speculation than a drama, and nowhere is it more evident than in the song’s third act’s big aria, “I woke up as a butterfly.” She sings it as she tries to spy on her lover, whom she thinks her party has sent her to France and has forgotten her for so long. Is she just a party minion? is she in love? what does she want from him

“Pretend to know, pretend to know the truth,” she sings. “I know the truth, so I pretend.”

Alas, out of luck.

Huang Ruo’s music, in his early opera “Dr. Sun Yat-sen” in Santa Fe, refuses to weave Chinese instruments into the orchestra. The intrigue here lies in how he handles the musical legacy of “Madame Butterfly,” and wisely, he has paid attention to it.

There is no sense of pastiche and no resort to parody. Direct quotes are limited to a brief moment in Song’s performance as Chocho-san. Where there are references, they are skewed or skewed, tending to flip the original material according to fan stories, asking who the narrative butterflies really are. For example, there’s the humming chorus, or at least the humming chorus, but it’s meant to evoke memories of Galimard rather than those of the lover.

But otherwise, much of the score is tiring as it alternates between pounding chords and pounding cross rhythms, layered with more static, interrupted passages. With enough tension, there’s little variety, and this dry music rarely gives us unspoken insight. I had to. Without them, this butterfly is lost.

M. Butterfly

at the Santa Fe Opera, New Mexico until August 24. santafeopera.org.

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