Stage

One-man 'Madam Butterfly' sequel debuts in London

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

A sequel to Giacomo Puccini’s classic opera “Madam Butterfly” is being staged for the first time at a London theater and the creators hope they can take it eventually to the place of the original story’s setting in Nagasaki, southwestern Japan.

The tragic tale of an ill-fated romance between a U.S. naval officer and a Japanese girl has been gripping audiences worldwide ever since the start of the 20th century.

However, the story leaves many questions unanswered and this is why Mexican-born actor and singer Ignacio Jarquin decided to revisit the story and help create the one-man opera “Madam Butterfly Returns” that has already won accolades and been performed for the Japan Society in London.

With a libretto by playwright Andrew G. Marshall, the opera was scored by the avant-garde English composer Michael Finnissy and has echoes of Puccini’s work as well as musical forms taken from Kabuki.

In the two-act show, which is running from Nov. 4 through Nov. 22 at the Landor Theater in Clapham, southwest London, Jarquin has managed to incorporate several classical Japanese art forms into the production.

“This is something I have been playing with in my mind for a long time,” he said.

Puccini’s original opera sees the naval officer Benjamin Pinkerton and his Japanese lover “Cio-Cio-san,” or “Butterfly,” marry in Nagasaki. She falls pregnant with Pinkerton’s child but he has to leave the Japanese port.

Three years later, he returns with his American wife, with the intention of bringing up the child in the United States.

But just before the two former lovers meet, a distraught Butterfly blindfolds her son, Tomisaburo, and commits suicide. Puccini’s opera ends with Pinkerton arriving to find Butterfly’s dead body and then rushing off.

“Madam Butterfly Returns” is set 30 years on and tells what happened to the son.

“I was always thinking ‘Who is going to take care of the child?’ To my surprise no one has done a follow-up to what happened to the child,” Jarquin said.

In his performance, in which he plays all eight characters, the audience finds Tomisaburo has travelled to the United States and is seeking a meeting with his father who is now the governor of Georgia.

However, Pinkerton is advised against seeing his son given that his re-election campaign is based on family values and notions of racial purity.

When Tomisaburo realizes after waiting three days that his father does not want to meet him, he decides he has only one option and, like his mother before, commits suicide.

Jarquin uses elements of noh and kabuki drama, as well as martial arts, in his performance.

“I wanted to use Japanese art forms in order to create a believable vehicle for what is ultimately a Greek tragedy. I’m paying homage to Japanese art forms and the way they inform our theater-making,” he said.

Jarquin said he hopes eventually to take his show to Japan.

“It would be a dream come true to perform this opera in Nagasaki,” Jarquin said. “The story we are telling is universal.”

“I have had Japanese people in the audience. … They said it was darker than Puccini’s Butterfly. They recognized we were trying to use Japanese art forms in a genuine way,” he said.

Jarquin, who has performed several one-man operas before, says it is quite difficult to perform several characters in quick succession. The Japanese characters are played in a soft “sinewy” way in order to contrast them with the Americans who are performed in a more confident manner, he told Japan Society members at a recent talk in London.