Culture

Historian calls Welsh National Opera ‘woke’ for exploring themes of colonialism in Madam Butterfly

18 Aug 2021 2 minutes Read
A performance of Madam Butterfly. Picture by Lia aleks (CC BY-SA 4.0).

A historian has called the Welsh National Opera “woke” for exploring themes of slavery and colonialism in Madam Butterfly.

The company based in Cardiff will run a lecture Prof Priyamvada Gopal of the University of Cambridge alongside the opera to discuss issues around “imperialism” raised by the opera.

Dr Zareer Masani, an Indian author and historian of the British Empire, has however criticised the move, telling the Telegraph that it is “astonishing that even opera has become an excuse for a swipe at the British Empire”.

“True, the American abandons his pregnant Japanese lover, forgets her and returns with his American wife to adopt her child – a tragic clash of cultures – but hardly the result of imperialism, since Japan was never colonised.

“Welsh National Opera needs to grow up and escape this wokedom.”

‘Perspective’

The WNO’s notes on the talk, published in The Telegraph, note that despite having no direct link with Britain, “Madam Butterfly was premiered at the height of the British Empire”.

The opera tells the tragic story of 15 year old Cio Cio San, a young Japanese girl who falls in love with American naval officer Pinkerton.

“Many books continue to be published today about empire and its lasting effect, however for some it is only recently that we have started investigating independently what Britain’s role and impact in the world has been in the wake of Black Lives Matter,” the WNO said.

“How many of us have, in fact, benefitted from formal education about the British Empire?

“In this discussion, we consider how the UK is still shaped by its past and which stories of the empire are common knowledge and have been reflected on our stages and from whose perspective.

“Are there some tales that still need to come to light and be shared?”

All four talks will be held online from September 14 to 21, with the WNO’s tour of Madam Butterfly beginning in Cardiff on September 26.

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Martin Hughes
Martin Hughes
2 months ago

It’s weird how some people have tried to weaponise the word ‘woke’,
Do they think of themselves as being ‘unwoke’, blind to oppression, injustice and racism? Or are they simply pro-oppression, pro-injustice and pro-racism?

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/mar/04/chitra-ramaswamy-the-more-woke-is-used-as-a-joke-and-slur-the-more-we-need-it

MWW
MWW
2 months ago

From an international perspective, little Britain is seen as pathetically delusional, still struggling to find a new self image after the loss of its empire over half a century ago. Saddest of all are Telegraph readers grotesquely hanging on to lost grandeur. Constant displays of the monarchy, their castles and treasures are a futile attempt to erase the brutality of imperialism. 

Stuart Cane
Stuart Cane
2 months ago

Clearly the easiest way to get a publishing fee from the Telegraph is to wave a union jack or throw the “woke” insult around. Even English bishops and Indian historians are jumping on the gravy train.

Just sad that nation.cymru feels the need to give their views some extra oxygen.

Robin Lynn
Robin Lynn
2 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Cane

One has to wonder what this tells us about wokeness, our colonial hangover, or the relationship between Dr. Aswani and Professor Gopal. Or as the late Wallace S. Sayre, who was professor of political science at Columbia University put it:

“The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low.”

Lyn
Lyn
2 months ago

Madame Butterfly was chosen for the re-opening of the rebuilt Berlin Staatsoper after the war. The Opera House was in the Russian sector of a city still under four-power occupation. The American VIP guests walked out on the grounds that the event was blatantly anti-American. You don’t need to put on a modern over-conceptualised staging to get the political message about the advent of a foreign power into the lives of other people. You just need to watch the whole opera and listen to the words, rather than just basking in the lush romance of a “greatest hit” or two.… Read more »

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
2 months ago

Words I should like to see banned from our political lexicon in Wales …

Woke.
Terf.
Nazi.

Llewelyn
Llewelyn
2 months ago

Include in that the “the North of Wales”

And the word Taff for a Gog.

Wynford Jones
Wynford Jones
2 months ago

Wnes i ddim elwa o’m addysg ffurfiol am yr Ymerodraeth Brydeinig yn “Cardiganshire” yn y 50au/60au. Mwy o waith coed fyddai wedi bod yn fuddiol.

j humphrys
j humphrys
2 months ago

Ask the peoples surrounding Japan what they think.

David Llewellyn Davies
David Llewellyn Davies
27 days ago

It sounds like the historian is saying look at me, I’ve done alright for myself. The exception that proves the rule that it was cruel and inhumane

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