When Italian composer Giacomo Puccini sat down to write his new opera about a Japanese geisha 100 years ago, it’s unlikely he foresaw the Butterfly effect that would follow.
This fall, Opera Lyra Ottawa celebrates the centennial anniversary of one of opera’s most beloved pieces, Madame Butterfly. The Italian-sung classic tells the heart-wrenching story of misunderstood interracial love between a young geisha, Butterfly, and an American naval officer, Pinkerton. The powerful tale of honour and unrequited love has been retold in many forms, including the more modern Miss Saigon musical. And despite its tragedy or maybe because of it opera lovers the world over have flocked to its stages for 100 years.
“It’s just a story that people are fascinated with,” explains Opera Lyra artistic director Tyrone Paterson. “It’s a very emotional story. There’s also a lovely visual side to it, being set in Japan, with the costumes.”
The story tells of the young geisha Cio-Cio-San, or Butterfly, who turns her back on her family for the fleeting love of an American naval officer. She gives herself to him in a marriage contract that can – and is, eventually – broken at his will.
Butterfly misunderstands Pinkerton’s intentions and spends three years awaiting his return, with his son, Sorrow, conceived just before he left for America. Pinkerton returns with his new American wife in tow, shattering Butterfly’s world. While the American couple makes arrangements to bring Sorrow back to North America, Butterfly kills herself with her father’s dagger.
“Pinkerton is basically typical of how the western world at that time viewed the Japanese culture at the time,” explains Paterson.
Chinese-Canadian opera diva Li Ping Zhang leads the opera as Butterfly, a role she has performed the world over to many audiences.
* Tickets and info: online at www.operalyra.ca or www.ticketmaster.ca, in person at the Opera Lyra Box Office at Arts Court, 2 Daly Avenue, Suite 110; by phone at (613) 233-9200 ext 221 or 1-877-233-5972.
Sung in Italian, with English and French surtitles.
8pm. Sep 11, 13, 15 & 18.
Pre-opera chats: 7pm. Sep 11 & 15.
Tickets: $62 (orch) to $134.