Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why did Gabriel select Puccini’s Madame Butterfly?

Hello Everyone,

We are pleased to share another special guest post with you today.

Terry, whom you probably know as @Terry the Nurse on Twitter, is indeed a nurse, though she also has a degree in History and a graduate degree in Human Communication.

As some of you may know, Terry has been in the hospital this past week, but she submitted this piece before she was admitted. Please send her your good thoughts as she recovers from surgery.

Previously, Terry shared her thoughts on Abelard and Heloise and their place in the story of Gabriel and Julia.  The response to her pieces was enthusiastic and we're thrilled she is able to share more of her insights on Gabriel's Inferno.

Enjoy and Take Care,

“YOU are not Pinkerton!” 
Madame Butterfly, Paulina, and Gabriel’s Inferno (Chapter 31)

Julia knew that something was wrong, and it wasn’t solely because she could hear the strains of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly wafting from the living room….”

“…. Julia demanded that he silence Maria Callas so that they could talk.”

Sylvain Reynard, Gabriel’s Inferno

In this post, I thought I would change gears a little bit, and discuss an important classical music reference that is found in one of the most painful chapters of Gabriel’s Inferno.  You might recall that in chapter 31, Gabriel and Julia are getting ready to go to Florence. Gabriel knows that it’s time (far past time, really) for his confession about Paulina, for his explanation of the tattoo above his heart, and what the name Maia means to him and will soon mean to Julia. When Julia arrives at his apartment, Gabriel is at his worst: emotionally cold, drinking heavily, and avoiding eye contact.  And, the music he’s listening to? Puccini’s Madame Butterfly...

Why did SR choose Madame Butterfly for Gabriel to listen to on such a painful occasion? After all, there are so many beautiful and melodic operas that SR might have chosen.  What is it about Madame Butterfly (sung with passion by the great Maria Callas) that makes the moment so painful and revealing? What should not be a surprise by now is that it is there for a reason, or so I suggest.

There’s significance to this magnificent opera as it connects to the story of Gabriel and Paulina. In fact, I hope after you read this post, you will feel just a little more sympathetic toward her character and understand why it is  yet another hidden gem and a way for SR to emphasize Gabriel’s guilt through Puccini’s haunting music and operatic narrative (known as the libretto.) There’s a parallel here that will grab your heart – I promise. Remember that Gabriel was consumed with pain and guilt over what happened with Paulina and Maia, and fear that he would lose Julia after he explained what happened. And why does Julia try so hard to reassure Gabriel that (he) “is not Pinkerton?” Who was Pinkerton, and what did he do?

For those not familiar with opera Madame Butterfly, I want to provide you with a brief summary. For a full summary provided by the New York Metropolitan Opera, go here.

The tragic story takes place in Japan at the turn of the 20th century. Cio-Cio-San is a geisha known as Butterfly.  She meets an American naval lieutenant, B.F. Pinkerton, whose goal is to sail the world looking for pleasure, sexual and otherwise. Butterfly falls in love with him and they marry, although unbeknownst to her, Pinkerton does not take the marriage seriously and plans to marry an American woman upon his return to the USA.  The couple spends a few romantic nights together, and then Pinkerton leaves to join his ship. Butterfly is so convinced that they will have a life together that she converts to Christianity to reinforce to Pinkerton how much she loves him.

Three years pass. Butterfly is waiting for Pinkerton to return to her while she raises their son who is now three years old. Everyone around Butterfly is convinced that Pinkerton will never return, but Butterfly has faith that he loves her and will be happy to hear that they have a son (prophetically named “Trouble.”) She feels sure that he will return to her.

The day comes when Pinkerton’s ship returns to the harbor, and Butterfly excitedly makes preparations to see him. When he arrives, he is accompanied by his American wife, Kate, and Butterfly realizes that the life she thought she’d have with him was nothing more than a fantasy. Heartbroken and shamed, Butterfly says farewell to her son and commits hari-kari,  the Japanese tradition of honor suicide. As the curtain drops, the audience hears Pinkerton offstage calling her name in torment and grief.

When I first read Inferno, I was so caught up in the story that I didn’t quite make the connection, although I have always loved this opera. After a few re-reads, I had an “aha” moment.  Julia does her best to convince Gabriel that “he’s not Pinkerton.” Perhaps… but Butterfly certainly represents Paulina. I think the parallels are unmistakable.

Paulina was Butterfly. True, The Professor didn’t promise her a marriage or a life together, but he didn’t exactly discourage her either. As cool and condescending as Paulina was externally, she was fragile and desperate for him within. Like Butterfly who loved Pinkerton intensely and waited years for him, Paulina loved Gabriel just as passionately and hoped he would return to her. And like Pinkerton who treated Butterfly horribly, Gabriel (as Julia accuses him in Rapture) “fed her scraps” and led her on just enough to keep her hopeful. And we know how he treated Paulina when she told him she was pregnant. Although Butterfly’s attempt at suicide was successful, remember that Paulina also attempted suicide shortly after her miscarriage.  Both Pinkerton and Gabriel are wracked with guilt when they come to terms with the eventual outcomes of their sins.

So, imagine this scene. Gabriel is in psychic agony. He knows he has run out of time, and he must tell Julia a secret about his past that has haunted him for years, slowly eating away at his soul.  I imagine him walking around his apartment without purpose, with a glass of Laphroaig in his hand.  He is sweaty, pale, unshaven, and scared.  His hair is messy, his eyes red behind his glasses. Wallowing in guilt and shame, he is convinced that he will lose Julia once the secret is revealed. And THIS haunting, sad, and celebrated aria is playing in the background. The aria, sung by the remarkable Maria Callas as Butterfly, yearns for “Un bel di vedremo” (or, “One fine day we will see”) when Pinkerton will return to her and make her life complete. As Paulina did with Gabriel… and more than anyone, it is Gabriel who knows that. It is no wonder that he is listening to Madame Butterfly – in so many ways, he knows that he and Pinkerton have too much in common, and that he has caused Paulina terrible sadness. In listening to Butterfly, he is remembering and acknowledging Paulina’s pain. We know that Gabriel eventually found his redemption. Did Pinkerton?

I realize that opera (like expensive Scotch) is an acquired taste. Still, I am going to encourage you to listen to this aria while you read the chapter again -- your heart will break for everyone concerned – Gabriel, Paulina, Julia, Pinkerton, and Butterfly. (Parenthetically, you will need some tissues, too.)  I think you will feel Gabriel’s pain and anguish in a deeper way because that is where the music brings you. And, perhaps you will better appreciate Paulina’s despair and loneliness for Gabriel, as well as her hopelessness. She is not an unsympathetic character in the story. The voice and the music have a special way of not only accentuating the emotions, but personalizing it as well. I chose two videos to provide you with some scenes that better illustrate my summary of the opera as well as the parallels in these two romantic but tragic love stories. As SR often says: “Take time for beauty.” When you let the music wash over you, it is indeed lovely.

What do you think? Was Julia correct? Or, is Gabriel a modern day Pinkerton?

  Maria Callas

To watch and hear Madame Butterfly in its entirety, go HERE.

Or, to see and listen to key scenes from a more modern version (including the fantastic finale that will give you goose bumps) as performed by Patricia Racette of the New York Metropolitan Opera, go here.

For a multi-part documentary about the fascinating and operatic diva Maria Callas, go here to learn why she is considered the greatest operatic voice of the 20th century.

To read more about Giacomo Puccini, go to PBS here.


As always, thank you to SR for your brilliant writing, and to you, his readers!! <3 p="">
~~ Terry


Unknown said...

Thank you, Terry, for your eloquent post.I was a young girl when my mother and aunt took me to this, my first opera in Boston. What you wrote brought tears to my eyes again.I cried when I read it in his book, and found it to be an extremely emotional part for him to put on paper.SR writes with his heart, and his soul, and it is what makes him so special to us.
I pray you are on the road to recovery after your operation. Still keeping you in my prayers. xo

Lazy Bones Mcgee said...

Terry this was just great!!! I love love love when you share your brain with us!!! :D xoxoxo

jenna b

nana7 said...

I always enjoy Terris posts. They are so informative and interesting. Please keep it up.

Efrat Noy said...

As always Terry - a fabulous post! So insightful and written so very well!
In my reading of Gabriel's Inferno I remember noticing Madame Butterfly as well but didn't quite reach the empathy for Paulina as you describe it. It does make sense, however I think there is a difference between Paulina and Butterfly..
Paulina had the wisdom (and perhaps shrewdness) to keep Gabriel close enough to her even after their separation. Remember Gabriel and Julia's dinner when Paulina called Gabriel? He had to leave Julia in Paulina's favor.. and he comes back all flustered, following which Julia had to rescue him from Lobby. Butterfly was much more of a biblical 'Job', whereas we don't know enough about Paulina to determine that she was the same.
Obviously, she's been through terrible circumstances with the loss of Maia, so she does deserve the proper kindness and respect from all us readers. We just don't know too much about her to say how much of a Butterfly she really was..
Perhaps SR will tell us more in Gabriel's Redemption?? :-)

My 2 cents..

I'm happy you're felling better Terry, and praying for your very quick recovery. You were truly missed, my friend..

kate said...

Brilliant. Madame Butterfly is my favorite opera too - so beautiful, so painful - amazing. Thank you for yet another insightful post.

Jdt said...

Oh my Lord! Terry I am sitting in my hotel room and whining! So many times since I read GI and GR and found the contact with You, SR and everybody connected to these books I think that it must be faith.
When I read chapter 31, it hurted so much, there was to many memories, from my own life that I could sense in that chapter. I am not talking about loosing a child or dooing drugs. No I am talking about Pucini's Madame Butterfly or Cho Cho San. Remembered pictures that went lost. Pictures of my Gabriel (husb.) when he played Dolore, Cho Cho Sans and Pinkerton's child. There was a beautiful Opera House in our hometown. He played the role for a whole season. Music is a very special part in my families life. Pucini's Madame Butterfly is one of them.
I know that it is about fictive characters in a novel, but with its beautifully written language and allusions to art and music gives me so much happiness and richness.
I am so glad for your post, because it is so important to see and understand the connection between this sad but beautiful music and Gabriel's state of mind.
Did Pinkerton found redemption? I don't know. I agree with Julia, I don!'t see Gabriel as Pinkerton. He was waiting, to long maybe, with the reveal about his past with Paulina. He was terrified for loosing Julia.
But he promised himself to tell her before they left for Florence. And he kept his promise. Pinkerton cowardly denied to meet Cho Cho San, and she took her life. Gabriel saved Paulina, even if he could not save Maia.

Sorry if you find I wrote to much, but I my heart wanted to share.
Thank you Terry for an other fantastic and insightful post. Thank you SR for writing these beautiful novels. Always in my heart.

Unknown said...

Dearest Terry - I have not been fortunate to have seen the Opera or listened to the Music from Madame Butterfly....but after reading this I am now determined! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your point of view, thank-you so much for this!!! Your a wonderful lady and yet again SR and his works keeps gifting and opening my world with such value and precious gifts such as you and your brilliant insight xoxoxox

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