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Sometimes an opera is just an opera

February 16, 2007

Oh dear. Here we go again. Appreciative Brits in Covent Garden, listening to the exquisite, soaring strains of Puccini’s unexcelled music, taking in beautiful stagecraft and historically correct costumes, all the while under covert mission as “unwitting participants in racism, colonial misadventure and outmoded, ‘sordid’ morals.” Opera lovers just keep taking it on the chin.

Madame Butterfly periodically gets bad press. It’s a quaint tragedy of a Japanese geisha who sort of comes with the house rented by an American lieutenant. She produces his child. He then goes off and takes a “real wife;” they return for the child, and the geisha commits suicide to preserve her honor. Okay, this is not a moral paragon among literary plots–no one claims that. But its critics can’t have it both ways. I thought this was the era that declared that the Eleventh Commandment was to become acquainted with the history of racism, injustice, and the cultural heritage of non-European people. But if we take in an opera that depicts a vignette of racism, injustice, and the cultural heritage of non-European people, then we are unwitting participants in racism and immorality.

My only response is: no we’re not.

I’ll be listening to Jenufa on the radio this Saturday. The plot is pathologically sordid. But Karita Mattila is singing the lead, and I don’t understand a word of Czech, so I’ll be caught up in the music and voices alone, while helping my husband plant some seeds in our greenhouse. I won’t be an unwitting participant in anything.

  1. February 16, 2007 10:50 am

    Ah yes, they want to make the old things conform to the new. Sort of like wineskins. Next thing you know, they’ll want to rewrite the Bible to make it more PC.

    Oh wait, that’s already been done.

  2. February 16, 2007 10:57 am

    The cultural critque is an artless melodrama in its own right. The Liberals bellow about their social agendae–racism, colonialism, &c.; the Conservatives steam about theirs–morality–and you really can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys without a program.

    But we’ll stay away from the Bible rewrite plots.

  3. Ruben permalink
    February 16, 2007 11:49 am

    I suppose it was this same mentality that led to the attempt to ban Huck Finn a while back.
    Incidentally, the best recorded version of Madame Butterfly is a video with Ying Huang in the title role.

  4. Mike Pitzler permalink
    February 18, 2007 7:01 am

    Well, that’s entertainment and politics, and as Mr Ratzinger says about religion, “Ex opere operato.'”

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