We’ve been wanting to comment on the opera we saw recently, Madama Butterfly. We are not a music critic nor an opera critic, though we do play one on our blog from time to time. The version we saw was quite good, given that our House is quite small.
Puccini never lets his audience down and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house in the second act and at the tragic finale. But you know all about that.
What interested us was a bit of dialogue we had never noticed before. It took place in the first act. We usually ignore the first scenes in that act as we wait for the star soprano to appear. But Puccini had some subtle points to make and did he ever!
First, he makes fun of the Japanese matchmaker, viewed here as little more than a procurer. He makes fun of the arrogant Americans, too, as they casually dismiss the locals as hardly worth much of anything, with those silly Japanese marital laws which last for 999 years and can be cancelled in a month.
Pinkerton, the cad who abandons our heroine in her hour of need later in the story, was eagerly anticipating his wedding night, drinking quite a bit, and chatting with the American Consul Sharpless, a kindly, thoughtful gentleman who had met the girl – she was only 15! – the day before.
As Pinkerton sings about “roving, searching for pleasure and profit,” Sharpless warns him that such a life “saddens the heart.” That’s what’s in my CD version libretto, but at the Portland Opera, the translation was much stronger.
Such a life, seeking only for pleasure, “withers the heart,” Sharpless said. Checking our dictionary, we see that the CD translation is the accurate one, but we think the Portland Opera one is truer to reality.
Investment lesson: always check meanings. The casual, more ordinary meaning may not fit the occasion properly, so consider context as you proceed in your research.