Puccini opera is 'racist'

2007-02-15 07:06

London - A leading British opera scholar denounced Puccini's Madame Butterfly as "racist", ahead of the opening Wednesday of a new production of one of the world's most popular operas.

Professor Roger Parker, a teacher of music at King's College London and a Puccini expert, suggested in the The Daily Telegraph that producers should stage modern versions by changing some parts of the opera.

"An authentic production is a racist production," he was quoted as saying.

"It has a lot of ideas within it that would be seen in any other circumstances as racist. It is not just a question of the words, it is also Puccini's music," he said.

Parker has not seen the production opening at the Royal Opera House on Wednesday, but the newspaper called it a traditional take on the story of a 15-year-old Japanese geisha who falls in love with an American naval officer.

Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton makes a marriage of convenience to Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly), who converts to Christianity, before abandoning her with a baby and returning to the United States to get married to a "real wife".

Puccini's Butterfly, set in Japan at the start of the 20th century, "is a product of the time in which it was written", the newspaper quoted the Royal Opera House as saying.

However, Parker told the newspaper that the popularity of authentic productions meant he had to speak out, even if many considered his comments as heresy.

Much more sensitive about racism

"We have become much more sensitive (about racism) and the interpretation of Madama Butterfly is one of those operas that needs to reflect that," he said.

"But the problem is that people are too frightened of intervening in opera to make a modern production, by cutting out or changing some parts."

A source the newspaper quoted in the Japanese embassy in London did not take offence.

"I don't think it is racist at all. The story could have happened in Vietnam or even London. It is about the time it was set in, we don't feel offended because it is about Japan," the source said.