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Despite my status as a music teacher and musician, I don’t listen to live music on a regular basis – in fact, the opportunities to listen to music at all are few and far between.
I do love listening to music in my car. I listen to latin dance music (although it has a tendency to make me drive too fast), compilations of songs, and my current favourite - my Sons of Anarchy playlist, to help me feel mean and dangerous, as if I might one day ride off with some leather jacketed Hells Angel. I did also painstakingly compile a playlist of all the piano pieces on the diploma syllabus, but it’s just not ‘car music’ – most of the time, it’s too delicate and subtle to be heard over the sound of potholes ruining my car’s suspension.
However, this week, I’ve been to TWO live concerts – very different from each other, but exciting and rousing nevertheless.
The first was my friend’s band, playing in a popular live music venue – teeth shatteringly loud, in a dark room on the second floor of a pub. It brought back memories of being a student, going out on a Tuesday night, sticky floors and cheap beer (although the beer is no longer cheap).
As I watched them playing and singing, it impressed me that they had not only written their own songs, but they were performing them LIVE – and that’s a kind of magic. Hubby and I were also fascinated at the sheer physical stamina of the drummer, who had a proper, hardcore cardio workout for 45 minutes!
Yesterday’s live music offering was a night at the opera – Madame Butterfly in Cardiff – the tickets, a Christmas present from Hubby.
I realise that this was only the third or fourth time I’ve seen an opera. On one memorable occasion, we went to see Tosca but, being poor students, could only afford the £5 crappy ‘reduced visibility’ tickets; our seats LITERALLY faced away from the stage, and we could see NOTHING.
No such problems today. We had great seats, and the production was very slick indeed – I especially loved the innovative stage setting, and the atmospheric lighting.
But…I have an issue with the story of Madame Butterfly.
Here’s a brief synopsis if you aren’t familiar with it. (Taken directly from the programme notes provided by the WNO. Although I proof read it and changed the bits that didn’t make sense.)
‘A young Japanese woman, Cio-Cio san (Madame Butterfly), has agreed to an arranged marriage with Lieutenant Pinkerton of the United States Navy. She takes the marriage seriously and falls in love, while he sees it simply as an amusing diversion during his temporary posting to Japan. Leaving his bride behind, Pinkerton goes back to the US for 3 years, during which time Cio-Cio san gives birth to his child and is gradually reduced to poverty, but faithfully believes her husband will return. In due course, Pinkerton does return, but with a new, American wife. When they hear that there is a child, Pinkerton and his new wife decide to adopt him. In despair, knowing that the Pinkertons will be able to give him a better life than she, Cio-Cio san bids farewell to her son, then kills herself.’
OK. So you can see, this story isn’t exactly the best marketing tool for cross-cultural marriages.
I get it. Inter-racial marriage is difficult sometimes, for all sorts of reasons. In fact, marriage is difficult – full stop. But there may be greater compromises and deeper levels of empathy and understanding required to make a mixed race marriage work. Often, the happy couple don’t even have a language in common that they are both equally proficient at. This must surely distort the balance of power…if marriage was about ‘who has the power’. There are often sacrifices to be made – after all, you can’t live in two places at once; one person must give up his/her country to be with their spouse.
In this case, Madame Butterfly sacrificed her religion and contact with her friends/family to marry a Westerner, believing that her new husband and LOVE is all she needs.
WRONG! Oh dear. The naivety of the girl is stunning. Mind you, she’s only 15… which makes Pinkerton a pretty creepy guy.
Why did her family overreact and shun her when they discovered she had converted to Christianity to please her new husband? What did they expect? They arranged her marriage to a Westerner, for goodness sake - trading her away for 100 yen, as if she were a bag of rice.
Most annoying of all is the way Pinkerton is portrayed as a dashing, irresponsible cad; while Madame Butterfly is the lovelorn, blubbering, hysterical victim.
The lovelorn, blubbering, hysterical, JAPANESE victim.
Japanese women are often portrayed as weak, obedient wives – subservient, deferring to her husband in all domestic matters.
I once heard that the definition of perfect happiness was a man who had an American salary, an English home, a Chinese cook and a Japanese wife.
This joke pisses me off. I just don’t find it funny.
I have had plenty of experiences where people have assumed that I’m some kind of mail-order bride. (Which Hubby might find hilarious – he’d probably want his money back, for starters. ‘Obedient?? Subservient??! This wife is defective…’)
And get this – by the time I was 18, I’d already had 4 or 5 complete strangers (westerners) ask me to marry them. For real. Which I think is more a commentary on the weirdness level of the men out there, than on my magnetic personality and irresistible exotic allure.
I know lots of Japanese women who are also wives – and not a single one of them is a stereotyped, bowing, meek and mild wife. And not one of us would have fallen desperately in love with a (frankly portly) middle-aged lieutenant (with short arms), mooned around for three years while he went off and found a ‘proper, American’ wife, agreed to give up Beloved Son to Faithless Husband and a strange woman, and then topped herself, wearing her wedding kimono.
Lose the drama! I think we’d all agree that a new pair of shoes (for us), a crippling law-suit (for him), and rotting prawns in the curtain rails of his new house would be a more appropriate response.