Don’t mess with Madama Butterfly, you uncultured fools

From the comment section of Guardian’s fluff piece of Glyndebourne boost:

Retroactively applying current moral sensibilities to older artistic works is naively dismissing cultural context, in the same way that dubbing something as ‘problematic’ is an intellectual cop-out, actually shutting down avenues for meaningful conversation and reverting to moral sanctimony that is less about actual progressiveness and more about moralistic posturing. (says alives)

Hm. Maybe it’s early(ish) morning after a night shift and I can’t think straight (has happened before) but I don’t quite see it that way. We always apply modern sensibilities to older artistic works, whether we give them passes or not. If we didn’t I guess we’d still be doing the same thing (cave paintings?) and study the same things in school like they did in Moses’ time.

Just because I think this is a dumb story that has yet another damsel in mortal distress in the title role to go with the schmalzy sentiments/music does not mean I don’t get cultural context (ie: that’s mid 19th century to early 20th for ya; but, dehggi, Puccini is actually criticising Pinkerton/colonialists! Fair enough but I think it’s fair to say women are sick and tired of being the designated object of pity in yet another opera).

Not calling a lot of things problematic has lead to said things being swept under the rug and considered the way of the world for aeons (ie, I didn’t know there was a problem! You should’ve said so!) rather than encourage discussion. Saying something is morally abhorent does not automatically lead to moralistic posturing – it actually is opening dialogue on a tough subject. Talk about getting into a hissy fit over other people’s opinions…

I should mention that the Guardian opera section’s comments are usually frequented either by folks who want all subsidy removed from opera posthaste or dinosaurs who like to reminisce about how it was at Covent Garden before Daylight Savings Time was introduced. This fluff piece has given a good chunk an opportunity to bash #metoo.

personal hobby horse: someone in the comments worries that this opera might end up shelved for its problematic nature and how that would not be fair. Well, tell that to all the 17th and 18th century Baroque works that are still lesser known that this one – and for no better reason than subsequent time periods found them old fashioned and not in line with their moral sensibilities… Poppea vs Butterfly, anyone?

About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on June 6, 2018, in 20th century, operatic damsels in distress, rants and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Not to mention Così fan tutte, completely ignored for most of the 19th century because it presents an extremely un-romantic view of love and courtship, and it shows that women cheating doesn’t NECESSARILY end in murder.

    So yes, I agree with you Dehggi, we need to point out that the views expressed by beloved works of art are commendable.

    But, as the old crone I am, I have to say that I see the point of the Guardian’s article as well. Cultural context exists, it’s a thing, and it should not be dismissed. “It is wrong now and it was wrong then” is an absolutist point of view which doesn’t really help anybody. We need more relativism in the world, not less, and accepting that morals are a function of time and space gives a better perspective IMHO.

    In my tiny way, I try to point out that the morals of an opera are abhorrent when I review it. The more we say it, the more it’s clear that we don’t excuse them just because we like the artistic work.

    • We need more relativism in the world, not less,

      I do agre with that; we live in a time when straying from the straight and narrow (as defined by many different groups) is seen as a shunnable offence.

      we also live in a time when a lot of things that haven’t been said are finally being discussed. Militants on all sides are derailing the dialogue, that is also true. But I think that is always the danger when very serious things are brought into the open – emotions run high.

  2. “Just because I think this is a dumb story that has yet another damsel in mortal distress in the title role to go with the schmalzy sentiments/music does not mean I don’t get cultural context (ie: that’s mid 19th century to early 20th for ya; but, dehggi, Puccini is actually criticising Pinkerton/colonialists! Fair enough but I think it’s fair to say women are sick and tired of being the designated object of pity in yet another opera).”

    Yes, and I wonder, if Madame Butterfly may slowly vanish from the stages, maybe it would not only be for “problematic morals” but for a lack of identification figures in it? If, from a modern perspective, people don’t get at all why she lets herself be treated that way, it all comes down to, “but well, it was all very bad back then” and that might just not be enough for people being interested in a story. Operas are most interesting if they show something that you can, at least to some extend, be transported into modern realities.

    (Btw. I like this article and your and Guilias comments, why it there no like button)

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