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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, February 24, 2000

Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly, played by Guiping Deng
agrees to marry the American naval officer Pinkerton
(played by Carlo Scibelli).


Damsel in distress themes are
common in theater, but that
is slowly evolving

By Nadine Kam
Features Editor


THERE'S nothing like a tragedy to draw a crowd. On Feb. 17, 1904, Giacomo Puccini debuted his new work "Madama Butterfly," in which a young Japanese woman, purchased by an immature American naval officer, meets up with disaster.

On Feb. 15, 2000, Fox unveiled its TV special, "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire," in which a young American woman, "purchased" by an immature American alleged multimillionaire, meets up with disaster.


Bullet What: "Madama Butterfly," presented by Hawaii Opera Theatre
Bullet When: 8 p.m. tomorrow, 4 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and March 2
Bullet Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Bullet Cost: $25 to $80
Bullet Call: 596-7858

Human nature hasn't changed much in nearly a hundred years.

"It's sad that even now, women think that marriage will be their ticket to a better life," said Paula Williams, who is directing Hawaii Opera Theatre's production of "Madama Butterfly."

The opera was last staged here in 1993, and returns to the Blaisdell Concert Hall beginning tomorrow. Guiping Deng plays Cio-Cio-San, and Carlo Scibelli plays Pinkerton, who purchases his bride for 100 yen.

Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly) loves him enough to renounce her family and faith for him. When Pinkerton sets sail for America, Butterfly dutifully waits for him, raising the son he's never seen. When Pinkerton finally returns three years later with his American wife, the story tumbles toward its tragic end.

Although economics and politics are the primary reason marriages have existed throughout history, in contemporary America, this does not have to be the case.

Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Suzuki,left, played by Yun Deng, helps Cio-Cio San
(Guiping Deng) remove her obi.

"I think it's a bizarre thing that grown women think that marriage will make their lives better," said Williams. "People make bad, ill-fated choices based on conceptual thoughts rather than reality. One million dollars is not the huge amount of money people think it is. It's not going to make you happy."

What makes "Madama Butterfly" a tragedy that resonates is the fact that Cio-Cio-San starts out as an innocent with no ulterior motives.

"She's supposed to be an adolescent with no family, no ties. She has no choice, so for her, (marriage is) a good choice," Williams said, "and she does mature in that the choice she makes at the end is to do what's in her heart."

Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Cio Cio San (Madam Butterfly played by Guiping Deng)
with her handmaidens waiting to assist her.

As long as history keeps repeating itself, "Madama Butterfly" will remain a parable for women who are careless or step out of bounds.

"Our society for a long time -- in arts like ballet, opera and painting -- have been drawn to the vulnerable woman," Williams said. "Even for women, it's very enticing. I guess we feel better if we see other people worse off? I'm not saying that's true, but there are so many stories that treat women as tragic victims."

She said that Puccini, in particular, was prolific on the subject, reflecting his views as a turn-of-the-century European male.

In his defense, Williams says, "I think he was really making an attempt to present the tale through the eyes of women.

"I think it was a big step for him, to humanize her and not make her just a pretty little plaything."

The production is headed primarily by women. In addition to having Williams at its helm, Carol Bailey is "Butterfly's" set director, Mary Chun is its music director, and costumes were designed by Anne Namba.

As women gain more power, Williams said, the "woman as victim" theme is waning.

"I think we're getting smarter. We're realizing that our real ticket to success is our own potential as individuals."

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