Sunday, October 19, 2008

Madame Butterfly

Yesterday Brooke and I went to the Opera here in Salt Lake City. Before dinner we went to Olive Garden to use the gift certificate we got from my parents for our anniversary, and I made a major discovery. If you want great service, a good table and better food when you dine out, go earlier in the evening! We arrived just before 5:00 and had one of the best experiences I've ever had in a restaurant.

The Utah Opera is produced in the historic Capitol Theater downtown. It is a magnificent building that lent itself to our growing interest in amateur photography (yes, I have to admit that I got a copy of Photography for Dummies from the library last week). We took quite a few pictures of the outside of the building while we were waiting for the doors to open. In fact Brooke went a little camera happy and took about a million of me, but I won't make you suffer too much by putting all of them up. However to keep her happy here are a few of the better ones.
OK, so now that we have some of those pictures out of the way let me tell you about the main event: The Opera itself. The performance was a fantastic production of Madame Butterfly, the most performed Opera in the United States. For those of you who are not familiar with the story, let me tell you about it. And trust me, it won't ruin it. I am as much against spoilers for books, TV and movies as anybody else, but Opera is different. You don't go to the Opera find out what the story is about, you go to the Opera to experience the story. I know this sounds geeky, but it's the way it works. Why else do you think that they would have it in another language? Anyway, here is the story:
In the early 1900's a young American Naval officer named Pinkerton arrives in Japan and arranges a 999 year lease on a house with the option every month of canceling the contract. He also gets a marriage contract on the same terms with a young Geisha girl, Butterfly, who family has come down in the world. At the wedding the American Consul warns Pinkerton that the girl probably won't be taking this marriage contract so lightly, but the American officer brushes aside his advice and talks about the day when he can marry a "real" American girl.
The bride arrives with her family and meets her future husband. She tells him that she has been preparing for the marriage and has secretly converted to the American religion. Her family comes with her to the marriage, and the contract is signed, but then her uncle who is a Buddhist Priest shows up and renounces her along with all of her family who all abandon her. She's distressed, but figures it's going to be okay because she has an American husband now.
Fast forward three years: Butterfly had a son shortly after Pinkerton left, and with him is waiting for the fathers return any day now. She is doing her best to raise her son as an American and keep what she calls an American house. He promised her that he would return when the robins make their nest, but she keeps telling people that Robins done come to America as often as they do to Japan. She is faithfully playing the part of a Penelope, rejecting suitors and despising all those who say her husband won't keep his promise and return. Then one day the consul shows up with a letter he got from her husband. He's reading it to her and trying to break the bad news to her when they hear a cannon fire and look out into the harbour and see her Husband's ship. She gets excited and ignoring the consuls warning gets the house ready and waits for her husband to come home. But he doesn't. She waits all day and through the night but he still doesn't show up. Finally she is exhausted and goes to bed. Then here comes her husband with his new American wife. They heard about the child and have come to adopt him. Pinkerton sees the shrine that Butterfly has made to him, though, and is overwhelmed with grief and leaves the dirty work of talking to his Japanese wife to his new American one. After much grief Butterfly consents to let her son go to America, and then telling him to look at her face and remember her, sends him out to play while she pulls out the knife that her father used to commit ritual suicide. Then she kills herself.
OK, so it's a little melodramatic. And perhaps a bit disturbing. But as Brother Brigham suggested, the theater should provide us with an example of the joys of righteousness and the consequences of sin. I read the essay about the meaning of the Opera that was published in the program and the author makes a compelling case that the root of the tragedy lies in the false expectations of the two young couples. Perhaps the lack of communication is the real cause for the problem in this play, and what makes it so compelling. Maybe the popularity of the play lies in it's cosmopolitan nature: a European work of art dealing with American and Asian people. Some people suggest that it is a good analogy for the disappointments that both parties felt in early Japanese-American relationships that would eventually culminate in Pearl Harbour. This is certainly an interesting case, since when this Opera was being produced Theodore Roosevelt was putting an end to the war between Japan and Russia with one hand while making a "Gentleman's Agreement" with the other to exclude Japanese Immigrants as an undesirable element.
But aside from all the political and social commentary that you can read into the Opera and why it is so popular, I think that the most poignant thing for me is the message about how fundamentally important it is that we value our relationships with each other, especially as husband and wife (or potential husband and wife). It's just so sad to realise how much pain and anguish all of us go through because we fail to listen to each other and respect each other's feelings.
Anyway, to end on a positive note, after the Opera we walked down to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building Parking lot to get our car (by the way, Brooke works there now, so we took advantage of the free parking). It was a warm and beautiful night, and best of all there was hardly anybody around! Only a few cars and almost no other people. It was so peaceful and calm. Life has been so busy and hectic lately, but I am so glad that I got to spend a romantic and memorable night out with the person that I love the most in the whole world. So when you read this Brooke, just know that I LOVE YOU TOO!