SOAS University of London Press Release

The show must go on – SOAS expert helps shape revival of Madama Butterfly

Madama Butterfly, Puccini’s opera focusing on a young geisha who falls in love with an American naval officer, has been reimagined for 21st Century audiences following a consultation by the Royal Opera House. 

The Royal Opera House revival, due to open today (Tuesday 14 June), has been relaunched thanks to historical expertise and input from Dr Satona Suzuki, a lecturer in Japanese and Modern Japanese History at SOAS.

Dr Suzuki was drafted in to help make the production fit for 2022 audiences after outdated narratives from the late nineteenth century, around imperialism, orientalism and sexism, and misrepresentations of Japan, threatened the opening with a possible backlash from modern audiences.

The year-long consultation by the Royal Opera House involved staff from the ROH, academics, practitioners, performers and Asian representatives to help remove any references that could offend.

The collaboration inspired discrete but important changes to several aspects of the existing staging, including makeup, wigs and costume, and movement. 

Commenting on her involvement, Dr Suzuki, said: 

“I really admire the director’s decision. As a historian, I genuinely believe that when facing difficult and uncomfortable issues we reflect on our past from different perspectives through meaningful discussions. It makes more sense than simply ignoring or cancelling such a masterpiece that is still so important for modern audiences.”

Oliver Mears, Director at The Royal Opera House, who led the consultation, said:

“Puccini’s opera is a masterpiece. However, it is also a product of its time. For this revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s classic production, we wanted to interrogate the depiction of Japanese culture in the staging of this work and involve Japanese practitioners and academics to help us work towards a Butterfly; both true to the spirit of the original and authentic in its representation of Japan.”