British opera company the Royal Opera will stage a version of the classical opera “Madame Butterfly” this month with the racist parts removed, the company said.
The production will open at the Royal Opera House in London on June 14. It is the result of a year-long consultation that explored how traditional operas can be more sensitively presented in contemporary times.
In a bid to remove the Japanese stereotypes from Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s opera, the makeup, costumes and movement have been altered for the new presentation.
While the Royal Opera’s Director of Opera Oliver Mears considers Puccini’s work a masterpiece, he noted that it is also a “product of its time.”
Set in late 19th century Japan, the opera follows the tragic story of Cio-Cio San, a teenage Japanese geisha who was forced into an arranged marriage with American naval officer Pinkerton.
The opera has become among the most performed operas in the world, with various successful adaptations presented for over a century.
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Critics, however, have long accused “Madame Butterfly” of orientalism because of its use of stereotypes and suggestions of the West’s superiority.
In the production’s revival, the staff at the Royal Opera House consulted with “academics, practitioners, performers and Asian representatives.”
According to Mears, the Royale Opera “wanted to interrogate the depiction of Japanese culture in the staging of this work and involve Japanese practitioners and academics to help us work towards a Butterfly both true to the spirit of the original, and authentic in its representation of Japan.”
Sonoko Kamimura, who was tapped as the production’s movement consultant, noted how they focused on “refining posture and adjusting placement” of cast members.
“By making tiny changes to the ways in which singers express their emotions through music, we can create something more authentic – less prone to stereotypes, and more attuned to the historical context of the story,” she explained.
The Royal Opera House will also host a free exhibition for audiences to “explore and contextualize the complicated history and context of the piece, addressing issues that include stereotyping and imperialism.”
The exhibit will feature “historical images and a series of newly commissioned portraits” to give insight into the opera’s revival process.