Yes, opera is over-the-top. Yes it takes on the ‘big themes’ and deals with them in an over-simplified and melodramatic way. And, yes, they sing! But I have discovered two great things about it.
Firstly, opera has unexpected instances of exquisite beauty when the sound whirling around you forces you to focus on the ‘smallest’ moment. This happened for me when I became transfixed as Butterfly waited hopefully (and hopelessly) through an interminable night for her husband to return.
Secondly, opera also provides a phenomenological experience of truth by helping you to understand what really matters through your feelings and your body’s response. For example, I cried when the child-like Butterfly excitedly festooned her house with the beautiful flowers of spring in what I knew to be a futile gesture of love. I had not expected to cry which, for me, makes the response all the more authentic.
These two aspects of opera, these offerings of beauty and truth, are very rare these days. What is even rarer though is that while moments of truth and beauty are usually very personal and intimate, I found the full operatic performance of Madama Butterfly encouraged, indeed demanded, a connection with the other members of the audience so that these moments become a shared experience. When Butterfly wept, I also wept!. As did the man next to me, a lot! And his wife, and the woman next to her, and so on. A veritable waterfall of tears cleansing and purging, pooling our collective emotion, binding us all together in our intensity of feelings. None of us wanted it to be over as we had all been transported into the world of this little drama. We all dabbed at our eyes with tissues, we all smiled and chatted with each other as we left the auditorium, connected by our precious common experiences of truth and beauty.
Reality TV has never reduced me to tears, it has never given me goose-bumps or even that racing of the heart that indicates you have finally stopped thinking and begun to understand through feeling. But Puccini’s Madama Butterfly did that…I only wish there was space to write more.
MADAMA BUTTERFLY is showing at Arts Centre Melbourne until 14 December 2012. Click here for more information and tickets.
The above was a review of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly as performed by Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House 2009 by Julia, competition winner.