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A Vision of the Orient

A Vision of the Orient: Texts, Intertexts, and Contexts of Madame Butterfly

Jonathan Wisenthal
Sherrill Grace
Melinda Boyd
Brian McIlroy
Vera Micznik
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    A Vision of the Orient
    Book Description:

    Best known as the story from the 1904 Puccini opera, the compelling modern myth of Madame Butterfly has been read, watched, and re-interpreted for over a century, from Pierre Loti's 1887 novelMadame Chrysanthèmeto A.R. Gurney's 1999 playFar East. This fascinating collaborative volume examines the Madame Butterfly narrative in a wide variety of cultural contexts - literary, musical, theatrical, cinematic, historical, and political - and in a variety of media - opera, drama, film, and prose narratives - and includes contributions from a wide range of academic disciplines, such as Asian Studies, English Literature, Theatre, Musicology, and Film Studies.

    From its original colonial beginnings, the Butterfly story has been turned about and inverted in recent years to shed light back on the nature of the relationship between East and West, remaining popular in its original version as well as in retellings such as David Henry Hwang's playM. Butterflyand David Cronenberg's screen adaptation. The combined perspectives that result from this collaboration provide new and challenging insights into the powerful, resonant myth of a painful encounter between East and West.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7053-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Madame Butterfly: A Selective Chronology
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    • Inventing the Orient
      (pp. 3-18)

      The texts that constitute the subject of this book take a wide variety of forms – opera, drama, film, prose narrative, musical comedy, painting – and they come from several countries. But all of these countries are in the Western Hemisphere, and it is a striking fact that this narrative of ‘the Orient’ ¹ is entirely a cultural construct of white, Western nations that were vigorously engaged in the attempted conquest of other parts of the world during the period in which the Butterfly myth has flourished, the past hundred years or so. The three principal nations that have produced these Butterfly...


    • Mounting Butterflies
      (pp. 21-35)

      Midway through her love scene with Lieutenant Pinkerton, Puccini’s Cio-Cio-San suddenly recoils with trepidation: ‘They say that abroad, every butterfly – if it falls into a man’s hands – is transfixed with a pin and fastened to a table.’ Pinkerton does not entirely allay her fears when he patiently explains that this practice prevents the butterfly from flying off. Then clasping her to him, he sings: ‘I have caught you. I hold you trembling. You are mine.’ Following this exchange, the lovers move into the scene’s climactic consummation, which we have been nudged to understand (not to put too fine a point...

    • Cio-Cio-San the Geisha
      (pp. 36-58)

      Most critical writings (including many in this volume) view the tragedy of the Madame Butterfly story as an epitome of the clash resulting from the stereotypical racial encounter between the submissive Oriental woman and the cruel white man. The tragic outcome of the story is seen as an example of Western domination, in which the Oriental woman sacrifices everything for the unscrupulous American and dies as a martyr ‘destroyed by Western values’ (Marchetti 78– 89).¹ Such (feminist, postcolonial) approaches are valuable in that they reprehend ideologically works of art that have enjoyed a long-standing success despite their use of this...

    • ‘Re-Orienting’ the Vision: Ethnicity and Authenticity from Suzuki to Comrade Chin
      (pp. 59-71)

      In only a few lines from his closing monologue, Rene Gallimard – the fictional ‘unhero’ of David Henry Hwang’sM. Butterfly– summarizes the pervasive element that lies at the heart of the matrix of texts constituting the Butterfly myth. According to Gallimard, ‘There is a vision of the Orient that I have. Of slender women in chong sams and kimonos, who die for the love of unworthy foreign devils. Who are born and raised to be the perfect women. Who take whatever punishment we give them, and bounce back, strengthened by love, unconditionally. It is a vision that has become my...

    • That Old Familiar Song: The Theatre of Culture in David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly
      (pp. 72-88)

      Many critics of David Henry Hwang’s playM. Butterflyhave focused on the extent to which the play is successful in interrogating the Orientalist elements of the opera’s plot,¹ although Susan McClary and Bart Testa raise important questions about this project here. Critics Kathryn Remen, Colleen Lye, and Melinda Boyd have extended discussions of the play’s deconstructive strategies by drawing attention to the importance of the physical and cultural-geographical locations of the theatres in which the play has been performed. I would like to further expand this argument by insisting that the relative success or failure of the play’s deconstruction...


    • Late Mutations of Cinema’s Butterfly
      (pp. 91-122)

      The focus of this essay falls on David Cronenberg’sM. Butterfly, a 1993 film that sets out to effect mutations on Puccini’s 1904 opera that Marina Heung describes as the ‘prototypical Madame Butterfly myth’ (174). On a first look, Cronenberg’s film derives simply and directly from David Henry Hwang’s Tony-winning Broadway playM. Butterfly(1988). The Chinese-American playwright and the Canadian filmmaker collaborated closely on the script for a production that was already set up before the director became involved (Beard 338). This essay will nonetheless suggest some deviations between Hwang’s play and Cronenberg’s direction of the material.

      Provoked by...

    • White Nagasaki /White Japan and a Post-Atomic Butterfly: Joshua Logan’s Sayonara (1957)
      (pp. 123-135)

      Nagasaki. In Europe and North America, the word conjures up a very specific resonance. The historically minded might be aware that the city was a Treaty Port in the late nineteenth century, a prescribed geographical area for Europeans and Americans to meet and interact with the Japanese (Hoare). Others may be aware that it was the strongest outpost, albeit of a generally weak effort, of Christian influence in Japan (Hein and Selden 91; Marx 82). Still others might be conscious that it was the setting of Puccini’s popularMadama Butterfly(1904). Most of all, of course, we ‘know’ Nagasaki as...

    • Playing Butterfly with David Henry Hwang and Robert Lepage
      (pp. 136-152)

      From Pierre Loti, David Belasco, and Giacomo Puccini to David Henry Hwang, David Cronenberg, Ken Russell, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Robert Lepage, male artists have worshipped the idea of Butterfly. Why? Why are all these men playing (with) Butterfly? If Rene Gallimard in Hwang’sM. Butterflycan be believed, it is because Butterfly is the ‘Perfect Woman’ (4), and such a woman can only be created, believed in, and, ultimately, played by a man. But this perfect woman is, of course, a fantasy. Moreover, in most of her twentieth-century incarnations she ends up dead: the perfect woman, it...


    • Madama Butterfly and the Absence of Empire
      (pp. 155-169)

      One: in 1984, Malcolm McLaren cut an album calledFansin which Cio-Cio-San appears as a digitized voice-over in a post-punk parody of the famous aria in Puccini’s opera. McLaren was, in many ways, the great impresario of punk rock in his capacity as manager of the notorious band The Sex Pistols, whose 1977 single ‘God Save the Queen’ sent up what Greil Marcus calls, inLipstick Traces, ‘England’s dream of its glorious past, as represented by the Queen, ... the nation’s basic tourist attraction, linchpin of an economy based on nothing, save England’s collective amputee’s itch for Empire’...

    • The Taming of the Oriental Shrew: The Two Asias in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Turandot
      (pp. 170-180)
      MARIA NG

      Often, when Westerners mistake me for a Japanese, my response is one of annoyance – why do Westerners assume that all Asians are the same: small, inscrutable rice-eaters? In our post-essentialist age, concepts of difference should ideally be part of any cross-cultural interaction.

      Indeed, Cultural Studies valorizes the ‘reconception of notions of identity’ (Appiah and Gates 1) and encourages a non-homogeneous approach towards representing other cultures. However, differentiation of ethnic identities is not a late-twentieth-century concept, nor is it a guarantee against prejudice. Different Asian nations have always been subjected to different types of prejudice, which the West has developed in...

    • Iron Butterfly: Cio-Cio-San and Japanese Imperialism
      (pp. 181-195)

      In his essay-introduction to the English National Opera Guide ofMadama Butterfly, entitled ‘Images of the Orient,’ Jean-Pierre Lehmann writes:

      It is in fact ironical that the first performance ofMadam Butterflyat La Scala, on February 17, 1904, occurred exactly nine days after the opening salvoes of the Russo-Japanese war. A year later Japan won a military victory over Russia which astounded – and indeed alarmed – the West. Between the images conjured up inMadam Butterflyand the realities of the naval battle of the Tsushima straits – where the Japanese under Admiral Togo annihilated the Russian fleet – there is an...

    • Madame Butterfly: Behind Every Great Woman ...
      (pp. 196-226)

      The multiplicity of Pierre Loti – author ofMadame Chrysanthème, one of the earliest articulations of the Madame Butterfly theme – was navigated with great flexibility by Roland Barthes in his 1971 essay ‘Pierre Loti:Aziyadé.’ Under Barthes’s pen the tableaux vivants of Loti by Loti quicken into images of ‘ desire [as] a force adrift’ (119).

      Taking Barthes’s lead, this chapter will explore the geographies of Loti’s desiring production: the contexts, material and imaginary, across which Loti wrote the (multiple) self and its others. For, above all, the sites of transformation of the self, whether they are metaphorical, or occur...

    • M. Butterfly: Staging Choices and Their Meanings
      (pp. 227-238)

      The following observations began as we prepared for a lab session that explored aspects of David Henry Hwang’sM. Butterfly. ‘The Theatrical Language: Staging Choices and Their Meanings’ was part of ‘Madame Butterfly in Film, Drama, Opera, and Fiction: An Interdisciplinary Symposium,’ held in April 1997. This piece charts our early thoughts as well as our later reflections on the workshop. We wish to acknowledge the participatory nature of the workshop; many of the ideas and perceptions expressed below are the result of generous exchange among symposium participants and guest presenters, some of whom are represented elsewhere in this book....

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-254)
  10. Contributors
    (pp. 255-256)
  11. Index
    (pp. 257-262)