“It seems that 'Butterfly' was not well received by the audience. But as an artist, I have confidence in this work," Giacomo Puccini said after the premiere of Madame Butterfly on February 17, 1904.
The composer was right.
Although Madame Butterfly -- booed by audiences -- began as a fiasco, it has become one of the world's most-performed theatrical works.
It is also considered the pivotal opera of Puccini's career.
Puccini in the opera etches the progression of love to loss, then despair to hope, with touching deftness and sensitivity.
Japan's acclaimed Shiki Theatre will perform a Japanese version of the tragedy at Beijing's Tianqiao Theatre from October 1 to 3.
The performances will be conducted by world-renowned Seiji Ozawa.
The spectacular, 142-member production involves a gorgeous team including Ozawa, Keita Asari, director; Sumio Yoshii, lighting artist; and Hanae Mori, costume designer.
It is a uniquely stylized and authentic production, subdued like an Oriental watercolor on a silk canvas, beautifully bringing to life Madame Butterfly's metamorphosis.
"Asari has created his 'Butterfly Lover' as a Japanese culture," says Chen Su'er, a Japan-based Chinese soprano, who will star as Cio-Cio-San in one show.
Madame Butterfly signifies the meeting of East and West. The tragedy results from the friction between the two cultures.
This is revealed in the truth and sorrow shown by Asari.
That truth was expressed in a delicate and graceful form, and that sorrow was not shown in a heavy way, which allowed the drama to flow naturally so audiences were not conscious of the director.
The set is very simple.
The curtain opens before the show begins, allowing the audience to see how a Japanese house made of wood and paper is constructed.
The sea is at the back of the stage. The set is unified in a traditional style.
The great, traditional legacy of Japanese theatre can be noticed throughout the poetic performance.
The use of "kuroko," on-stage assistants with hidden faces, the suicide scene, stylized as a ceremony, and the Japanese dances provide an interesting flavor.
After Cio-Cio-San stabs her chest and her fan slowly opens, a red color appears. People dressed in white kneeling around her gradually change the floor's color from white to red.
Shiki Theatre Co was founded in 1953. The company owns five theatres in Japan and annually produces about 2,000 performances.
In addition to its original musicals, the company performs Broadway musicals -- including Cats, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and The Phantom of the Opera.
(China Daily September 28, 2002)