The Butterfly incident

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007 | All Things, Arts

I had been looking forward to the Met’s new production of Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly since it debuted in New York last year. That premiere, which also served as new general manager Peter Gelb‘s inauguration, was attended by a host of celebrities and broadcast live simultaneously on screens on the Lincoln Center Plaza and in Times Square.

Anthony Minghella, Oscar-winning film director of The English Patient (1997) was responsible for the new staging of the oft-performed opera, which went on to win the 2006 Olivier Award for “Best New Opera Production” for its run at the London Coliseum. This Met season, with a new cast, it opened to a mixed review from The Times, but Minghella’s production — considered by a few critics to be too much style over substance — has garnered enough praise that he has been commissioned by the Met to write the libretto and direct a new work by composer Osvaldo Golijov that will make its debut in the 2011-12 season.

Madama Butterfly

The sets are certainly beautifully spare and elegant, and the costumes (by Shanghai-born fashion designer Han Feng) are striking, but the most extraordinary part of Minghella’s concept is its incorporation of traditional Japanese Bunraku-style puppetry. To portray Butterfly’s lovechild, Sorrow, three black-clad puppeteers from London’s Blind Summit Puppet Theatre manipulate a lifesize doll: two operating some combination of the doll’s head and hands, and another responsible for its feet. It’s a carefully choreographed dance that somehow manages to convey eerie realism and remarkable expressiveness despite the fact that the puppeteers are fully (if discreetly) visible to the audience the entire time.

In this production, similarly black-clad figures are also responsible for moving some of the props and set pieces… which leads to the “incident” of this blog post’s title. As the curtain rose on one such person sliding a large rice paper screen across the stage, I jokingly turned to my companion and whispered, “Ooh, since when are there ninjas in Madama Butterfly?” He chuckled politely — hey, I didn’t say it was comic gold — but a young woman seated directly behind us, obviously overhearing my comment, scornfully spat out “Pfft! STUPID!

Wha-at?! My eyes widened in shocked surprise. I may have even gasped, as much over the unexpected hostility as the disproportionate response to my light-hearted quip, but before I could deliver a comeback, the orchestra started up. I spent a good portion of Act I seething in silence, and as soon as the curtain came down for the first intermission, I turned to my companion once more to squawk incredulously, “Did she call me stupid?!

His response, which I took as confirmation, was to shake with uncontrollable laughter.

Hmph. She is lucky that I’m not this guy.

Madama Butterfly

There are 2 Comments ... The Butterfly incident

November 9, 2007

Bitchface2 Electric Boogaloo?

September 7, 2009

This is still funny.
I’m going tonight for the free screening on the plaza.
Gimme a buzz if you get back in time.

Go for it ...