Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Monsieur Butterfly-deconstructing Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Tony-award winning playwright, Henry David Hwang deconstructs the famous Madama Butterfly narrative in M. Butterfly or Monsieur Butterfly. This play is inspired by a true story of a French diplomat falling in love with a Chinese opera singer and having an affair with her for 20 years. However, the twist of the story (a true one!) is that he didn't know that his delicate Madame Butterfly was actually a man! Gallimard, the French diplomat, thinks he's Pinkerton, Puccini's antagonist, seducing Madama Butterfly. Song Liling or Madama Butterfly is actually a Chinese spy who plays the role of Puccini's protagonist and molds himself into Gallimard's construction of the Perfect Oriental Woman--submissive, mysterious, and sexual. Memorably, he asks his Suzuki counterpart "Do you know why women are always played by men in Chinese operas? It's because only men know how a woman should behave."

In the end, Song Liling reveals his true identity to Gallimard and he is subsequently arrested for treason against the French government by leaking information to the Chinese spy. (Can you imagine his shock? Song even faked pregnancy and produced a bi-racial son! Anal sex=fertilized egg???? You tell me.)

He goes to jail and finally realizes that while he thought he was playing the role of Pinkerton, he was actually playing the role of the victim, Madama Butterfly. He grabs a dagger and kills himself, completing the parallel.

This play was also made into a movie. You should check it out.


  1. Hmmm, I thought he was a man. One of professors showed this movie in class once but I had to miss class that day and I remember the professor vaguely mentioning that Madame Butterfly was a man. I haven't watched the movie.

  2. Madame Butterfly is a man in this play but in the opera, it's a woman.



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