Just standing in the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera is an event. It was bitterly cold out, but some stalwart women showed up in gowns with plunging necklines, jewels shining above cleavage. They wore black velvet opera coats, capes really, with no button. Oh, to see women in gowns instead of jeans! I was thrilled, I must admit how glad I was that the woman in the fathered hat didn’t end up sitting in front of me.
Before curtain rise, it was announced that the star, Ana Maria Martinez, Madama Butterfly, has a bad cold. I thought I was going to hear a phlegmy Cio-Cio San, a snuffly butterfly, but what a performance! How she fluttered around the stage in her anxiety, her kimono sleeves becoming wings. Her every gesture, inflection, step. pulsed with emotion. There she was, a 15-year-old, whose father lost all his money and in shame, committed suicide. She was left with no choice other than entertaining men. She believes that Pinkerton, a naval officer played by Gwyn Hughes Jones was going to take her back to the U.S. with him when actually he was taking her for his wife until he can get back to the states and marry an American. The Japanese divorce laws were so lax that it would have been no problem for him to accomplish this. Madama Butterfly was an example of sexual and cultural imperialism. Cio-Cio-San says, that she heard that in America, they stick pins in butterflies.
Cio-Cio-San has a son with Pinkerton that is played poignantly by a puppet operated by Kevin Augustine, Tom Lee, and Marc Petrosino. The way the puppet looks up at Cio-Cio-San, clings to her leg. No child could have been more convincing.
The dancing, the set with its mirrored ceiling reflecting lit lanterns, dancers with their swirling scarves! Sometimes words just cannot do it. You have to be there.
Good thing I don’t wear mascara. I was sobbing when Pinkerton came with his American wife to take their son away. Like her father before her, Cio-Cio-San killed herself with the same knife her father used.
On the way out, a woman turned to me and said, in a tremulous voice, “I just have to tell you that my son is profoundly deaf and this is his first opera, and he loved it.”
I don’t know why she felt she had to single me out from all the other strangers to tell me, but I’m so glad she did!