Saturday, February 17, 2007

Culture vulture on the loose

A week on from rocking along to Bowling for Soup, Cathy, me and the Russes enjoyed the Welsh National Opera performing Madame Butterfly. Again we were in the bargain seats and again we valued the fact that the Millennium Centre has subtitles for opera as my Italian hasn’t improved since La Boheme.

And how’s this for multicultural? An opera set in Japan where a main character is American, sung in Italian, with Welsh subtitles.

As previously, the set was very good and the performance was presumably good. People who had the look of more regular opera goers applauded enthusiastically at the end. But I did find the main male lead (who played the villainous American B.F. Pinkerton) very weak as a singer. He seemed to lack volume and charisma.

I found the undercurrent of a ‘disposable’ attitude towards the developing world was very culture-relevant. Pinkerton laughing about how he rented a property on a 999 year lease which he could cancel every month showed where the balance of power lay – and his attitude towards his bride mirrored that. She was his to use until he married a "proper American bride".

The real tragedy, as I saw it, was that Butterfly so desperately wanted to be an American, trusting her American husband to redeem her after she became a pariah for her cultural apostasy. Her betrayal by the man who never regarded her as an equal despite her sacrifices has huge parallels with contemporary corporate colonialism and is one of the most savage indictments of Western attitudes since Nick Nolte’s rant about how Africans don’t matter to the Western powers that be in Hotel Rwanda:
Colonel Oliver: [explaining why the world will not intervene] You're black.
You're not even a nigger. You're an African.

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