Readings and Opera, Arts and Letters
1 – In David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly, Helga, Gallimard’s wife, says, “Politics again? Why can’t they just hear it as a piece of beautiful music?” What is the context of her complaint? What argument can one propose to support her words? Is there an argument against it? Taking into account this discussion, how, in you estimation, should one listen to Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and evaluate its plot?
2 – Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia (1946) may well be the English composer’s “most controversial opera,” which is how Opera News described it in a recent article. Indeed, for its plot alone, it is easy to invoke here Catherine Clément’s “undoing of women;” the virtuous Lucretia is raped, and then she kills herself. What is the story of gender and violence that this opera tells? What is the contribution of music to Britten’s version of this classic tale? As you develop your own evaluation of the matter, please take into account J.P.E. Harper-Scott’s discussion of the music in “Britten’s Opera About Rape,” an article in Cambridge Opera Journal (available on JSTOR).