Over the past couple weeks we’ve seen two of the most famous and widely-known operas ever created: Puccini’s Tosca and his Madama Butterfly, both at the Met. Each production was beautiful and incredible to see. While with Tosca we experienced a traditional, literal, no-holds-barred approach to opera, with Madama Butterfly we saw a new metaphoric, symbolic, and somewhat abstract performance of a Puccini classic.
A comparison of Tosca and Madama Butterfly brings up interesting questions of the portrayal of the East versus the West. Tosca premiered in 1900, followed by Butterfly in 1904. How does Puccini’s vision of the European past as performed in Tosca compare to his vision of the Far East as performed in Madama Butterfly? Today, could the Met have pulled off an abstract staging of Tosca as it did for Madama Butterfly? How does the Met’s current staging of Butterfly reflect modern perceptions and stereotypes of Asia and Japan?