Un bel dì vedremo…
Magic exists in opera. Once the curtain rises and the music begins we can be transported through time and space to witness and experience stories of profound emotion that have endured for centuries. These shimmering fantasy worlds are deliberately built by composers, directors, designers, and performers, often to facilitate a disconnection between the audience witnessing their work and the outside world. Despite this disconnection from reality, if we take the position that the stories we tell on stage have no real-world consequences, it devalues what we do in the arts.
In Puccini’s opera, the titular Butterfly has every reason to conjure a fantasy world for herself. The hardship she has endured incentivizes her to accept an offer: the opportunity to marry a man who will afford her the type of security she hasn’t known since the loss of her father. This offer becomes a lifeline and the stakes are high for the arrangement to succeed, but the longer Cio-Cio-San lets herself mistake fantasy for reality, the less she is able to accept the truth of her situation.
In a similar way, we the audience, are emerging from our own periods of hardship, and the desire to escape into a fantasy world for some respite is appealing. But some of the onstage worlds we build are harming members of our community by perpetuating stereotypes and numbing us to violence committed against certain bodies – in the case of Madama Butterfly, anti-Asian violence. When we are unaware of the fact that our fantasies have been constructed for us, and when we are not called upon to confront what we are witnessing, we are less able to recognize the truth – that these same narratives are playing out in the world around us: as an online comment, harassment on the street, or at its worst, as a shooting in Georgia.
This production invites challenge by pointing to the elements of fantasy present in both Puccini’s work, and the broader production. It questions whether this world we are building helps us move forward, or facilitates an escape from reality. And it encourages us to disrupt the narrative, so that one beautiful day the magical stories we tell won’t shield us from the truth, but will empower us to rise up and meet the world before us.