Madama Butterfly for Boston Lyric Opera

Eradicating Yellowface Tradition

By: - Jun 26, 2023

Chinese American artist, advocate and director Phil Chan, whose book Final Bow for Yellowface altered the conversation about Asian representation on ballet stages around the country, turns his attention to opera this September, when he directs a new, Asian American take on "Madama Butterfly" for Boston Lyric Opera (BLO). 
BLO's production moves the 1904 opera to 1940s San Francisco and sets the story of Cio-Cio San (now simply "Butterfly") in that city's once vibrant Chinatown nightclub scene, where Japanese American performers blurred their cultural identities as Pearl Harbor-fueled anti-Japanese fear took hold in the U.S. In this version, when Butterfly's American Navy lover Pinkerton is shipped off to war, she is swept up in the xenophobic hysteria and waits with her son inside a U.S. incarceration camp for Pinkerton's return.
By re-centering the narrative on American citizens, working with Asian and Asian American production team members, and casting a broad array of Asian artists, Chan is reclaiming a 120-year-old story and making it relevant for contemporary audiences.
BLO's "Madama Butterfly" runs Sep. 14-24, 2023.