Costumes of the Opera “Madame Butterfly”

Recently, I went to see the opera “Madame Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera House in NYC. The modern interpretation was wonderful. It looked like a musical, rather than an opera. Especially, the interpretation using Bunraku puppetry looked unique. Just one month ago, I saw the opera “Lucia di Lammermoor”, which had really traditional interpretation, so I was surprised that the interpretation was quite different these two operas.

At first, I felt there was something wrong with costumes of this opera. I wondered if they would be really kimonos. Regardless of their roles, all Japanese male characters wore ikan-sokutai, full Japanese court dresses of traditional fashion. On the other hand, Japanese male characters wore outrageous costumes, like mixture of kimonos and twelve-layered ceremonial robes. In addition, they wore plastic wigs on their hair, which looked like Japanese coiffure. Actually I first felt discomfort, but gradually felt that their costumes were consistent with their play. This change of feeling was interesting. The interpretation of this opera was simple and modern, not likely to be associated with the historical background. If reality and historical authentication of the costumes were pursued, a balance between interpretation and costumes should be lacked. Therefore, I realize that it is not indispensable to make costumes of stage arts historically authentic.

Stylists need not limit the costumes of the opera “Madame Butterfly” to the rigid concept of “kimono”. Total coordination between interpretation and costumes should be needed. Because the interpretation of this opera is, so to speak, cosmopolitan, the costume could be cosmopolitan.
Kimono has conventions and rules, especially in Japan. It is easy to deny this stylist’s challenge, only because we regard these costumes as nothing authentic, but I disagree with that kind of old way of thinking.

I was supervised on dressing in historical kimonos by Prof. Sumi Sasajima, at the same time, on dressing casts of the opera “Madame Butterfly” in kimonos with the historical background. Indeed it is important to re-create costumes authentically, but beyond authenticity, I think that as for costumes of stage arts, it is more important to totally coordinate their costumes with their interpretation from holoscopical viewpoint. It should organize well-established understanding of the stage world.


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