Classical Asian Theatre
Dr. Debra Martin
Kabuki vs. Puccini
'One fine day' in 1854 an ominous black ship sailed into Nagasaki harbor, prying open the wall that stood between the East and the West. On another 'fine day' in 1904 European audiences saw the premiere of what was to become one of the most beloved operas ever known, using a combination of music from both east and west. Puccini's Madama Butterfly has captivated opera lovers through its exotic sounding music. Said music, is actually a western interpretation of the music found within the treasured Japanese art of Kabuki. This is not so far fetched as one might think. Both cultures have a love of melodramatic musical dramas. Kabuki and Opera are each cultures form of drama, music, and dance combined. When looking at them 'under the microscope' they are not so different from each other. Perhaps the most difficult reconciliation between the two is their music, as both Western and Eastern Music can sound totally different from each other, yet when listening to the music of Madama Butterfly one can find a common ground between the two cultures.
Before discussing the opera itself, one must first 'orient' themselves with the music of Kabuki. The orchestra that performs alongside Kabuki is called the Nagauta. It is said that, "The growth of nagauta is intimately connected with the evolution of the kabuki theatre in Tokyo." (Malm 205) The first recorded performance of Kabuki occurred in 15 96 when Okuni, a priestess performed a lively version of a Buddhist festival dance, accompanied by the drums and flute used in Noh theatre, as well as a small gong which she, herself, played. As Kabuki's popularity grew it became a form of entertainment and advertising used by brothels and geisha houses.
Most Geishas and prostitutes were already proficient in the samisen genre of kouta or "short songs." These were lyrical yet sometimes erotic poems accompanied by the samisen, a double...