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Opera, Exoticism and Visual Culture

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Edited By Hyunseon Lee and Naomi D. Segal

As a uniquely hybrid form of artistic output, straddling music and theatre and high and popular culture, opera offers vast research possibilities not only in the field of music studies but also in the fields of media and cultural studies. Using the exotic legacy of the fin-de-siècle as its primary lens, this volume explores the shifting relationships between the multimedia genre of opera and the rapidly changing world of visual cultures. It also examines the changing aesthetics of opera in composition and performance and historical (dis)continuity, including the postcolonial era. The book comprises eleven interdisciplinary essays by scholars from eight countries, researching in music, theatre, literature, film and media studies, as well as a special contribution by opera director Sir Jonathan Miller. The book begins with an examination of operatic exoticism in various cultural contexts, such as French, Latin American and Arabic culture. The next sections focus on the most beloved figures in opera performance – Salome, Madame Butterfly and Aida – and performances of these operas through history. Further interpretations of the operas in film and new media are then considered. In the final section, Sir Jonathan Miller reflects on the ‘afterlife’ of opera.
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Global Butterfly: Visual Exoticism, or its Reversal, in Silent Film and Opera Performances

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HYUNSEON LEE

In Pierre Loti’s autobiographical novel Madame Chrysanthème (1887), the protagonist, a French naval officer, decides prior to his arrival in Nagasaki that he will marry ‘a little yellow-skinned woman with black hair and cat’s eyes’ – his image of a Japanese woman derived from pictures circulating in Paris – and to live with her in ‘a little paper house’.1 Based on a temporary marriage contract, the protagonist pays one hundred yen to marry a young Japanese girl employed in the entertainment business. Such temporary marriage between a western visitor – usually military men – and a Japanese woman was in fact a common occurrence in port cities such as Nagasaki in the late nineteenth century, and they were sanctioned by the Japanese authorities.

The protagonist’s marriage lasts for three summer months in 1885, after which he is extremely happy to escape without any emotional involvement, guilt or legal complications. Before his departure, he observes that his former wife is playing with the fine silver dollars which, according to their agreement, he had given her the evening before. The protagonist comments on this scenario: ‘Well after all, it is even more completely Japanese than I could possibly have imagined it – this last scene of my married life! I feel inclined to laugh’ (p. 319).

Loti’s representation of his protagonist, the latter’s Japanese wife Ki-Kou-San and Japan is complex and ambivalent; however, the protagonist describes his Japanese bride as childish, primitive and strange – in short, foreign; she...

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