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For an Outstanding Outing to the Opera: "Madama Butterfly"

When someone hears that you have been to the opera, they of course ask how it was. Their initial response will tell you all you need to know about how much detail should be in your answer. The opera is not for everyone that is for sure. But I am a firm believer that everyone should try most things at least once. This is especially true if you cannot decide whether or not you will like it. There are just some things that you need to have seen or done in your life.

I am a woman heavily involved in the arts; they are a huge part of my life, even on a daily basis. I am always on the lookout for what new plays are opening on Broadway, what new books I must read, the magazines I have to collect to stay on trend, and even to some extent the movies that are popular. Television shows and its celebrities are also a must.

I am hyper aware of my society and always have been. My Liberal Arts Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology affirms that much. It is how the arts affect the people who portray it as well as those who see it that I am most enthralled with. When I am in an audience I have to stop several moments throughout a performance to look around me and see the looks on the faces of the others watching. It is unbelievable how different and similar our reactions can be.
When talking specifically about the opera you will get a very specific kind of feedback. My feeling is that it sounds more impressive that it should. I think people may be intimidated by the grandeur when in fact that is the reason they should experience it in the first place.  While no one is wearing ball gowns anymore, it is still a place where people wear their nicest clothes (the theater is no longer such a place) and show up to indulge in the divine language, costumes, sets, music, and of course, the singing.
Language is the biggest excuse to stay home but really no matter the language the emotion is depicted universally through action. It is amazing how caught up you can get in a story and the songs without every knowing the actual words. That is for sure how I felt when I saw La Traviata, which was the second opera I had been to. My first was La Boheme. I had chosen that to be my first because it is the opera that inspired playwright genius Jonathon Larson to write RENT, of which most of the story derives (
For those who are still interested but apprehensive you needn’t worry there are screens on the back of the seats that display the interpreted words into the language of your choice. This way you can sing along if you wish. But I always try to avoid looking at the words I feel like something can get lost in the translation.

My most recent trip to the Metropolitan Opera connected me with the story of Madame Butterfly. I knew this story was a classic and that there were many adaptions. While I am use to the reference of it and the utter sadness I would find I did not actually know the story. In fact the closer I got to the performance date of this show the more I avoided it. I just had this imagine of Glen Close in Fatal Attraction when she is on the floor crying, constantly calling/stalking Michael Douglas, and then kills his family pet rabbit, all while the soundtrack to Madame Butterfly is playing loudly on screen. There were no words needed then. I was sure I wasn’t going to need them on this evening either.

Finally my friend and date for the evening suggested I take a look at the brief synopsis online just so I would have an idea of the basic storyline. God I couldn’t have been more surprised, not even if Jesus Christ came back himself and said hello Donna (ok this is a joke I stole from my cousin- don’t tell her!).

Apparently this story would be familiar to me after all. It primarily takes place in Japan where an American army officer and a Japanese girl fall in love and get married. There is much, much more to this story but I don’t want to give it away. Suffice it to say that seeing a show set in Japan that was sung in Italian did sort of confuse me. My first thought though was that I had seen this show before, but where? Oh I know, it was a Broadway play called Miss Saigon. When I mentioned the similar plot lines to my friend he laughed and said that is because Miss Saigon was based on Madame Butterfly.  Go figure.

Honestly I have to say once I found that out I was a little sad. I had no idea that what I was about to see would be a version of what I had seen before. Of course there are many plot, musical, and casting differences between the play and the opera. It was that I had my heart so set on hearing this infamous story and being wowed by it. I suppose I wasn’t really in the mood for this I wanted something brand spanking new.

Once I accepted my fate I was still eager to see the show and settled into my seat. This opera house is so gorgeous it is impossible to sit there and not be excited. It inspires excitement. My friend had previously been on a backstage tour and gave me a few points of trivia while we waited for it to begin. Lucky for you I will now share them. The first, the actors/singers do not wear microphones. Rather the wood that is used to panel this amazing auditorium is made from a special kind of African wood that projects sound throughout the space. Secondly, the chandeliers that are hanging are raised before the show begins so that viewing is easier and that each one (which is more gorgeous than the next) is made completely with Swarovski crystals.

The opera started right on time and it was instantly action packed. The ensemble cast was huge and some of the outfits were extraordinary.  I was able to follow along but decided to use my translation guide so that I could understand it better. I felt like there were a lot of moments where nothing was happening but singing and I needed the words to make up for the lack of activity. By the end of Act one I needed a break.

This opera, as well as most, have three Acts and two half hour intermissions. That makes the show incredibly long.  Act two was by far my favorite, but I felt like Act two stopped right when it was getting good and to compensate let Act three go on forever to complete the storyline. It was way too long.

I was not satisfied with the last few minutes which I feel is so crucial to any good story. If you are already half way out of your seat, in your mind, then they have lost you. But I hung on until the very end waiting just waiting to see some big finish. It was there but was not a moment I would have used. I feel there were so many great other moments and then just kept going. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

In contrast, I LOVED Miss Saigon. It was the first Broadway play I ever saw and I went with my high school class sometime in the middle to late nineties. I still remember sitting with my best friend, who is still my best friend ( and the two of us being awestruck by what we saw. Since this was part of a school activity we got to meet the cast afterward and that made it all the more special. I would kill for another opportunity like that now. I didn’t even know how good I had it but still felt the instinct to love the theater, it has never gone away. Interestingly enough all of my closest friends in college were theater majors. Hmmmmmm.

Overall these minor disappointments did not make me regret having added and completed this on my to-do list ( I am actually thrilled that after two years of it being on my to-do list ( I can say that I have seen my third opera and it was my first choice for this season. There were only a few select dates and it was completely sold out. I am happy I was not the one to miss out. Lord knows I have a fear of that.

Every once and a while it is good to go out, come home late, having been invigorated by spending time in a magical place.

I intend to see operas in other cities when traveling.  The two that opera houses that are on the top my list for sure are in Sydney, Australia and Vienna, Austria.
For the Metropolitan Opera House:
For the New York City Ballet:
For Lincoln Center:
For the Top Opera Houses World Wide:


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