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Join the free watch party for Pacific Opera Project’s ‘Madama Butterfly’

Janet Todd in Pacific Opera Project's "Madama Butterfly"
Janet Todd, center, in Pacific Opera Project’s 2019 production of “Madama Butterfly” in L.A.
(Martha Benedict)

Lush music? Check.

Lavish costumes and sets? Check and check.

Puccini’s dramatic music sung in Italian? No. But allow us to explain ...

In April 2019, L.A.-based Pacific Opera Project, in collaboration with Houston’s Opera in the Heights, mounted a production of “Madama Butterfly” with what is believed to be the first English and Japanese translation of the libretto for Puccini’s musical tragedy.

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Ah, “Madama Butterfly,” Puccini’s classic operatic tale about a Japanese geisha and an American Navy lieutenant who meet in Nagasaki and fall in love as they sing to each other –– in Italian.

As Catherine Womack wrote at the time: “Many ‘Butterfly’ productions have drawn criticism for relying on racist stereotypes and appropriations of Japanese culture. A product of the early 20th century, ‘Butterfly’ tells a young Japanese woman’s story from a Western male perspective. At its best, it sheds light on a woman’s tragic circumstances. At its worst, it relies on ‘yellowface’ makeup and makes a mockery of her culture.”

Presented at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo, the Pacific Opera Production production tried to right some past wrongs, partly by casting only Japanese American singers in the Japanese-speaking roles, led by soprano Janet Todd as the long-suffering Cio-Cio-san. Tenor Peter Lake starred as Pinkerton, the man who does her wrong.

If you missed the production the last time around or want to relive the experience, you’re in luck: Pacific Opera Project is hosting an online watch party for a video recording of a performance. The event also will include a live interview with POP Artistic Director Josh Shaw and Opera in the Heights Artistic Director Eiki Isomura.

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The watch party is free to stream. It gets underway at 5 p.m. Wednesday at facebook.com/pacificoperaproject and on YouTube.com, where it will be available on demand afterward. To prepare for the show, interested viewers can also download background materials at pacificoperaproject.com/butterfly.


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