Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Yesterday, Mizuka and I went to Tokyo Bunka Kaikan in Ueno to see the opera Jr. Butterfly. Jr. Butterfly was composed by our friend Shigeaki Saegusa. The libretto was our friend Masahiko Shimada and the conductor was Naoto Otomo. Tenor Shigehiro Sano performs Jr. Butterfly and soprano Shinobu Sato plays Naomi, his love.

Madam Butterfly was an opera by Giacoma Puccini based on a story by John Luther Long. Puccini's opera opened in 1904, 100 years ago. Jr. Butterfly is the story of what happens to the son of Madame Butterfly and Pinkerton. It is set before, during and after WWII. The half-Japanese half-American Jr. Butterfly is an intelligence officer for the Americans and falls in love with a Japanese girl. At the core of the story is the love story between Jr. Butterfly and the girl, but the opera covers a lot of ground such as the identity struggle of Jr. Butterfly's chanpon background and the intentions of the US vis a vis war with Japan before the war. Also, with Madam Butterfly originally set in Nagasaki, the role of Nagasaki in the closure of the war ties it all together.

I enjoyed the opera very much. The score and poetry were beautiful and I was able to follow the story much better than previous Saegusa operas. It was also fun catching up during intermission with friends that I hadn't seen for a long time. I've been spending too little time with my non-computer and non-business related Japanese friends these days...

There's an interview in the Daily Yomiuri with Shigeaki Saegusa.


Naoto Otomo is one of the lead conductors in a program out in Kisarazu each summer that brings young musicians (graduate school level) from around the world to practice and conduct a symphony together. I've seen it a couple of times, and its an admirable cross-cultural venture. Otomo-san himself is married to a Westerner and is almost as cross-cultural as you are, Joi.

By the way, have you ever seen the play, M. Butterfly?

Funny you should ask Jun. I saw M. Butterfly conducted by Seiji Ozawa when I was in China for the 30th anniversary of China/Japan relations. It was an interesting performance because it was a Chinese chorus, a Japanese orchestra and a Japanese conductor performing a story written by an American composed by an Italian. ;-)

No. I haven't seen the play.

The play, M. Butterfly is based on a true story about a Frenchman who lives in China and falls in love with a Chinese opera singer. They have a long affair, and he subsequently returns to France. The opera singer follows him there several years later, where it is revealed that singer is a man, not a woman. (Really, true story. Mimi met the opera singer in Paris at a cocktail party years ago.) The play shows the relationship in parallel to the opera, Madam Butterfly, which the Frenchman is enamored with.

It's a great play. I've seen it twice.

Interesting. I'll have to see it. Is it running in New York? Is the Butterfly a magnet for cross-cultural love stories?

There's even a movie inspired from that affair

Madame Butterfly and M.Butterfly are 2 different things. Madame Butterlfly = Opera. M.Butterfly a play written by David Henry Wang and his adaptation of Madame Butterfly.

Ugh, Kentaro-san, credit us at least with the fact that most of us know that Puccini's 蝶々夫人 Opera libretto derives from Belasco's eponymous play which, by way of John Luther Long's narrative, connects with Pierre Loti's "Madame Chrysanthème"...
Now, 19th century seaman-author Loti a.k.a. Julien Viaud joined the Ecole navale in 1867, the year in which Karl Marx published "Das Kapital". Furthermore, Loti happens to be Français, just like the 20th-century diplomat who gets involved in communist China in a steamy affair with a travestite.
Our justification for connecting the two works thus goes far beyond entomology and is unimpugnable :-)

Hi. Can someone tell me what Jr. Butterfly's run is like? Meaning: how long is it playing, where, when? Any chance it's coming to North America? Also, what language is it set? Presumably Japanese, right?