From Aria Code: The Shattered Illusions of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership. I’m Kurt Anderson and this is the Studio 360 podcast.

S2: This is Jocelyn Gonzalez from Studio 360 on this podcast, Extra, we’re sharing an episode of a show called Area Code produced by radio station WQXR and the Metropolitan Opera. Grammy award winning host Rhiannon Giddens and her guests dive into one aria, a feature for a single singer, and explore how these brief musical moments have imprinted themselves on our collective consciousness. And some of opera’s biggest voices discuss what it takes to stand on the Met stage and sing them.


S3: Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is one of the most loved and hated operas of all time.

S4: It reinforces stereotypes of Asian women. Idealizes the West and the male lead.

S3: Well, he’s a jerk, but the music is so beautiful. The show’s most famous aria comes when Butterfly, a young geisha prays for the return of her lover. He’s a callis American soldier who’s left her alone for three years with their young child. He finally does return. But with his new American bride. Area code tackles all the notorious aspects of this opera and finds a human story about longing and loyalty behind all the drama. Here’s ARIA code from WQXR and the Metropolitan Opera.


S5: Puccini’s Madam Butterfly is ultimately a kind of psychosexual fantasy about the nature of not just Asian women, but also Asia itself from WQXR and the Metropolitan Opera.


S6: This is area code. I’m Rhiannon Giddens.

S7: I think that hope is one of the greatest lifelines that we have.

S6: Every episode we pull back the curtain on a single aria so we can see what’s behind the scenes. That excitement, that desire, that buteau sweetness. Today, it’s bumbo diva Raimo from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

S8: What agency that my mother have? What agency did the butterfly have? You know, they were not really options.

S9: The story of Madam Butterfly has always reminded me of something that my mom used to say when I was young. She would say that illusion is harder to let go of than reality. And I definitely find that in my life, you know, from relationships to my career, you know what I think I should be doing with it. It’s really easy to build these ideas about what something is or who someone is. And to put all of our faith into that illusion. That’s what today’s Aria Baldi is all about.


S10: Joe-Joe Son, also known as Butterfly, is a young Japanese girl. Now she became a geisha to support her family, but an American Navy lieutenant named Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, who’s stationed in Nagasaki, bought her as his bride. Yeah, I said bought. These are different times and women were still commodities anyway.

S11: Chodorow Sand falls head over heels in love with him, and they make beautiful music together and also, well, a baby boy. And then Pinkerton takes off. Three years pass and she waits for him totally faithful. Her made to Zuki is telling her to let it go. Like the guys not coming back. But butterflies clinging to the illusion of this life that they could have together. And that’s where today’s hopeful and heartbreaking aria comes in. And D Chucho san is imagining the day she’s going to see his ship on the horizon and know that he’s coming back for her. This one beautiful day.


S9: Now, I probably don’t have to tell you how this all works out or actually doesn’t. In her case, but I’ve invited four guests to share their thoughts about this beautiful aria.

S12: First up is soprano Anna Maria Martinez, who doesn’t just like Madame Butterfly.

S13: I love Madame Butterfly, and she has taught me beautiful lessons in life, in loyalty and courage, in dignity. She has made me a better person.

S14: Composer and conductor Hwang Ro Bhola So Souls who he’s writing an opera based on M. Butterfly, the Tony Award winning play.

S10: It’s a modern take on the butterfly story.

S15: To me, it has always been something I thought would be a great idea to truly update Madam Butterfly to a contemporary story.


S10: Sandro Kumamoto Stanley. She’s a professor of Asian-American studies at California State University.

S16: Puccini’s Madam Butterfly is a kind of a psychosexual fantasy about the nature of not just Asian women, but also Asia itself.

S10: And Kyoko Katayama, a writer and former psychotherapist who’s here to share the story of her mother’s life and her own.

S17: I was raised as a Japanese. On the other hand, I was also seen as a foreigner because my father was an American G.I..

S18: And now let’s get into it. bumble-ardy from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

S19: I see the Chinese Madam Butterfly as a story of someone who’s dreaming of a life that she wants and yearns for purchase son is practically a child when we meet her in Act 1.


S7: She is a geisha who has left the geisha house to marry her American husband.

S20: She was bought by Pinkerton to be his wife.


S5: She sees this as much more than a transactional relationship.

S21: But in his eyes, this marriage is not for eternity. He calls Butterfly a plaything. He’s going to enjoy his time in Japan and then essentially leave Madam Butterfly.

S22: Puccini’s opera came out in the early 20th century. The Japanese were building up their military might up until the war war, too. And for many of the Japanese audience, they did think of it as a cautionary tale against the West. See what happens. You know, you may end up with someone like Pinkerton.


S23: The war was going on and my mother lived in old part of Tokyo. And one night the U.S. dropped two thousand tons of incendiary bombs.

S24: Almost eight hundred thousand died in just one night.

S23: And my mother’s family was one of the victim. So they just went through this trauma and they’re just really struggling to find some kind of stability and hope for the future. And eventually they found a tiny apartment near part of Tokyo Nakano Station, which kind of became a famous station for me because my mother told me that she met my birth father at Nakamura’s station.

S13: The young lady that then we see in act two who’s been waiting for her husband for three years, is now the mother of their child.


S7: She’s 18 at this moment and she’s gone through so much. But there’s still an innocence about her.

S15: She has experienced hardship of family and life without her husband being home. And you know, the protocol, same as where is the next meal coming from? You know, things like that.

S16: But she’s motivated by this dream that she has and willing to sacrifice for that.


S25: So my mother would meet this G.I. American soldier at Nagano Station often, and one day there was a money. Somebody dropped on the platform.

S23: At the same time, they tried to reach for the money and bumped their head.

S26: That began their conversation.


S24: My father was really taken by my mother and they spent one night in really passionate lovemaking and later.

S23: My mother was left abandoned, pregnant, nowhere to go.

S27: Oh.

S28: Act Two begins with food Sukhi praying, please, please allow twitcher son to not be so sad and to not cry anymore.

S29: My.

S26: They have a very close bond with Sookie and Treacher son, much like a switch to being an almost maternal figure, but also sister and best friend.

S28: So he’s beginning to confront her to try to help teachersand to see the reality. She says if he doesn’t come back soon. We’re going to be done in.

S7: And she starts weeping and twitches and says, why? Why are you weeping? You have such little faith.


S30: And then she starts her aria. So it’s to try to reinforce Suzukis hope, but it’s really also to herself to try to convince herself that he will come back.

S31: Here we have, sir, this yearning of Madame Butterfly, a yearning that will not be fulfilled in the way that she imagines it to be.

S21: We’re sitting there and we’re thinking, oh, she’s so naive. This is not going to happen.

S20: I personally know people who fell in love so deeply and in self-denial just would not let go.

S32: That connects with people. We could feel her pain. You workers see why she’s suffering?


S30: I know some female friends that do not want to go to see Madame Butterfly and they say, oh, my God, she’s such a victim or how weak or.

S33: Come on, snap out of it. He’s not coming back. And I say, no, you’re missing the point. That’s actually the strength that she has to remain that loyal.

S34: My mother’s story was one day she lost touch with him in Tokyo and she went through a great effort to find out where he was.

S23: And finally she found out that he was transferred to a station near Yokohama, which is the main port.

S35: So she ran all the way from the train station to the base, hoping that she would find him. And when she arrived, they told her that he was just shipped back.

S36: And she would just cry because she needed to find him, to tell him that she was pregnant with me.

S34: First part of this aria is just a big descending motion pushing you put the very high G flat as the first note, which is quite challenging for singers because they need to hit that in tune, but also very soft so that you could really hear that pure sound coming soon, which really emphasizes her youthfulness, her hope.

S37: Hardly anything is happening in the orchestra. And that choice by Puccini is perfect. It’s a moment of absolute quiet and zen.

S38: She is zooming in to where she sees the landscape.

S23: The harbour, and then little by little, she sees the ship.

S39: So in a way, you are drawn by her and following her vision and journey into this world where she’s imagining her husband coming back.


S20: And that excitement, that desire that in a way, also bitterness. Witness.

S33: Literally, she says one fine day, this is how it’s all going to play out and he’s going to arrive in his ship and we will hear that cannon sound and this man will appear in the distance just like a dot so far away, you can barely see him.

S40: She sort of imagines even how she’s going to be interacting with him, how she’s going to tease him and that ultimately that he then will return and it will be that beautiful fine day.

S41: My family never talked about it, but it was very clear that I was a foreigner because how I looked.

S42: They all understood that my mother had given birth to a mixed blood bastard child, child of an enemy and abandoned by the father.

S43: She was no longer eligible to be treated as a regular Japanese woman. She in no way became an outcast.

S22: There is actually a term for mixed race children, which is the dust of life, they’re often seen as marginalize. So there is a real challenge because the question is not just of identities that are crossing over racial lines, but it’s also sort of a social narrative of why do we have this child in this world? How did this child, in fact, come to be? Is the story a legitimate or illegitimate story?

S34: Japan is a patrilineal society. You exist through the acknowledgement by the fathers side of the family. So one time by accident, I saw a family registry where they know there’s a box for father. It said illegitimate in Japanese. That word is child born of herself because the mother’s side doesn’t count if the father doesn’t acknowledge. You basically don’t exist. And that was very, very shameful.


S44: And I secretly held on to this hope that one day this man from America, from powerful country, rich country, recognized me and everything will be OK.

S45: Oh.

S38: And then the ship enters poison ivy beyong car in an importer to the white clouds of smoke that are coming from the ship will enter through the port.

S28: And I love this and I get chills when I think of it. I’ll buy you saw, Sanlu thought.

S46: I think Pulcini has a natural gift for Melody, but more than that, he could really use the voice to create drama and he knows when to take time and when to push forward.

S47: And he was able to use that to orchestra as a very important component to help to transition things.

S48: She says, so this man who will appear, who will it be and what will he say?

S49: Oh, cushiony trapped, a vocal range to more range here at the Soprano doesn’t need to scream or does it need to sing historically so that you become more intimate? Moss became.

S7: It’s storytelling, beautiful, vulnerable storytelling.

S34: My mother met an American man and she married him. So I came to the U.S..

S50: I was completely unprepared.

S44: You know, I knew America by the father knows best. Tunisia, supermen all in Japanese.

S41: Dad, I really did and know how things were so different culturally. So was it very, very difficult.

S50: And in the midst of all that, the fire, the longing to find my father kept going.

S51: So, yeah, I looked.

S36: Decades passed and it seemed like impossible.

S42: One time I was invited to be on a panel of people from the cultural background and another panelist who heard my story said, let me find him.


S50: And I said, Are you kidding?

S48: It’s not possible.

S52: About three weeks later, he called me. Then he said, I found your dad. And he gave me his phone number and I didn’t know what to do. Finally, one hour after I let go of ever finding him, he was found.

S33: And then the orchestra comes in for two. And you can see all of the effort that churches on makes on a daily basis to keep her emotions contained. I think in order to not lose it.

S32: To not let her nerves overtake her. The Albany is reprice again.

S53: With more emotion and more weight in August, rice well, to show the dramatic importance of this moment.

S28: First, she’s envisioning him at a far, and then when that melodic phrase comes back, she’s envisioning him already there. She can almost see him and feel him in front of her.

S5: One of the classic readings of Madam Butterfly is in the context of Orientalism, in which Madam Butterfly is seen as a projection of a Western male fantasy and that she’s vision as that submissive, exotic size eastern sort of figure. She’s then reduced in that sense to that kind of racialized fantasy. If you are what on the one hand working with a kind of exotic sized fantasy, but on the other hand in the US where you have anti-immigration laws, enacted laws in certain states against interracial marriages and relationships, where is the place for someone like Madam Butterfly?

S34: I couldn’t call his number for a long time and I went through full cycle in my mind of different possibilities. And when I finally arrived at a place that no matter what he’s going to say, including the possibility of him utterly rejecting me and telling me he has nothing to do with me and decided, okay, I’ll call him, find out.


S48: So finally I called that number.

S52: And he answered and I said my name and I said, I think you knew a woman by name. And I said my mother’s first name and that I think you were in Japan during this time, 1946.

S50: And then I said in a hurry. And I think I’m your daughter.

S54: And he said, I welcome you into my heart. And it just broke you down.

S52: So that was the beginning of getting to know my birth father.

S28: But I love is that almost steel like strength in her when she says all of this will transpire to the quest of it. They know it. I promise you all of this will happen.

S55: It ends in that climactic high note, the B flat, which is so beautiful, where she says use Itsuki can hold onto your doubts.

S56: Then the orchestra brings back to theme that ordered him to play out in fortissimo without anyone singing, without her singing.

S57: And you know, the stage direction at that point is for Madame Butterfly to embrace Suzuki. You know, two of them are embraced with emotion. Put Puccini successfully, give us a suspense is nulla aria just hope less is an aria has hope, but we don’t know where that hope will lead us.

S58: I think that hope is one of the greatest and strongest lifelines that we have. And I think that the greatest amount of growth in growth happens during the periods of tremendous hope.

S5: Madam Butterfly Figure has this naive faith. She’s imagining this place for herself, but that place then simply disintegrates before her eyes.

S22: The irony, of course, is that, yes, he does return, but he returns only to have all those illusions and all her dreams then destroyed. Unfortunately, when she finds that not only will that dream not be fulfilled, but that her place in that dream is taken by another woman as she then takes her own life, she makes that choice ultimately to erase herself.

S34: What choices does she have?

S59: I asked many times about what agency that my mother had. What agency did Butterfly have? Nothing was good. You know, there were no really options. And given the limited choice he had, that single faith that he will come back is a stupidity or is his courage. Who knew? Who knew? And what resources did she have to overcome these excruciating pain?

S60: I feel we re sad for her. I feel pain for my mother.

S59: And actually, that’s one of the reasons that I agree too to speak with you, because I wanted to give my mother some voice that she didn’t have. I had to wait 70 years to do that.

S18: That was writer Kyoko Katayama. Soprano Anna Maria Martinez, composer Huang Ro and Professor Sandro Kumamoto Stanly Decoding Unbeliever Draino from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. And now here’s Anna Maria Martinez singing on builda onstage at the Metropolitan Opera.

S61: I’m sort of in a corner now spinning.

S62: Oh.

S63: Oh.

S64: ksr e-commerce site on June 4 8 0 0 0 0.

S65: Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow.

S66: Oh.

S67: She did not want to know.

S10: Wow, that was beautiful, but it means that it’s time to wrap up this episode of area code and there’s a lot more to come. So don’t be a Pinkerton. All right, come back. Area Code is a co-production of WQXR and the Metropolitan Opera. The show is produced and scored by Meryn Lauzon. Emily Lang is our associate producer. Brendan Francis Newnam is our editor and Matt Abramowitz is our executive producer. Sound Design and Mixing by Matt Boynton and Original Music by Hani’s Brown.

S68: I’m Matt Higgins. See you next time. Silje and that.

S18: Had you must take those are you just gonna get Shamas? I thought you are Rhiannon Giddens and this is Aria code.

S31: Thanks for listening. And you can subscribe to Studio 360 wherever you get podcasts.