The Fairy Princess is not going to ‘Cancel Madama Butterfly“.


No one can.

“We” have to find a way to have the conversation about what is the issue, for all the shows and musicals and operas, rather than “Well, I am _____, and I don’t like it.”

Rolling up and declaring on social media that you are the authority simply because you share heritage with the purported origin of a show, or because you are tired, is not – ultimately helpful.

Not because you are not entitled to your feelings – of course you are – but because one person not liking something, is not enough – within the power structure of things – to ‘cancel’ it.

Not if it is in the ‘beloved’ category.

That is not the way the world works.


In the theater, the opera, we vote with our tickets. You do not want to see something – you do not buy a ticket – but you do not get to choose what everyone else sees or purchases tickets to….that is just the way it is.

We have to find a way to have these conversations – and TFP has had them – she in fact has had them in public, with the NY Gilbert And Sullivan Players in fact – and what did they do with THE MIKADO?

After the conversation?

They went back and re-imagined it and also opened up the company to more People of Color, and that – People, is how change is made.


Now, on to Madama Butterfly by Puccini.

Whatever you think about the story line and tropes, they have been around since Butterfly premiered in 1904.

Butterfly is intrinsically ‘complicated’, n’est pas?

First based on a short story by John Luther Long, an American lawyer, which was based on stories told to him by his sister, Jennie Correll, a former missionary in Japan.

Also, there was a French novel, Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti that was floating around at the time (that another opera of Butterfly was based on , composed in 1893 by André Messager), which may or may not have been used as a reference.


Long’s short story was the one that was made into a one act play called – Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan, and that was the one that was made into a play, Puccini saw it, and now we have Madama Butterfly.

So it is ostensibly, a word of mouth Japanese accounting by Americans who had been missionaries in Japan, a situation RIFE for mis-translation,  written in both French and American English, dramaticized, and then translated and sung in Italian.

It’s a mess if you want an ‘authentic’ story and provenance.

Don’t look to Butterfly and frankly, do not look to ANY Opera to ‘get it historically correct”.

Here is why – Opera is by nature, dramatic. Drama has to come from a heightened sense of reality and normal people – normal people who do not burst into song do not make for good operas.

Taxi drivers are not breaking out into a devastating aria as they prowl along Eighth Avenue.

Your local Wall Street Nightmare of a Trader is not staggering on the stock market floor with a weapon plunged in his side and dying tragically.

The PTA Leader you cannot stand is not standing wistfully by the playground swing set and singing about her isolation.

Going to the grocery store does not involve a tortuous lament. (wait, that one…maybe).

Your local graphic designer is not engaging in a witty duet with the neighbor who lives above them who coincidentally shares a staircase, which makes the situation rife with possibilities for romance.

Not that they do not have those feelings – they just keep them inside. Where ‘we’ do not see them. Nor are ‘we’ inspired by them – they are just people going about their day, their problems are only magnified to them.


In short, Operas are written about highly exaggerated people in highly exaggerated situations and no one – no sane person would equate any opera performance with an actual person. They are people, made in broad strokes, because the music in opera is what makes it transcend the origin story.

Becoming a world class opera singer takes years of study, the right teachers, some selfish behaviors like excusing oneself from parties so one can sleep, and wearing endless scarves and talent that is extraordinary. Becoming a world class opera singer takes the right combination of genetics and fairy dust, and it happens to some and not to others – and it is the wonder of viewing and hearing those unique performances that make people return to the opera again and again.


Which is why ‘cancelling’ an opera is not going to happen. Just stop with that – enough already – it is glorious music and even if everyone wore modern clothing and no wigs and just ‘sang’ it – it would be just as glorious.

Operas are supposed to be ‘exotic’ tales – and here is where we get into a tricky situation – because when most operas were written, travel to far extremes was not possible or too time consuming. They were also written by largely European composers, writing for company members and what they did best. What was most ‘exotic’ for their audiences were placing things in “Non Europe.” – aka nowhere European.

Many operatic works are based on plays or novels – and again, if you were writing a play or novel at that time, while one may have had the historic events as a backdrop – essentially the plots and characters were made up.


The issue is, and always will be – representation.

Now, from a ‘representation’ point of view – this is an issue. Writing stories and characters when you have never been to the point of origin can lead to some serious assumptions and/or outright mistakes.

In the United States and elsewhere, there are actual People of Color who are singing and dancing and seeing these operas and  engaging in the very American tradition of aping Europeans, and they are going to the theater and the opera and the ballet and there is a major issue that keeps rearing it’s head.

Get ready…


It’s not the music – it is the makeup.

TFP will say it again – it is not the music – it is the makeup.

In short, this is what true East Asian performers look like:


This is from the Broadway revival of PACIFIC OVERTURES, with Michael K. Lee.

See how majestic? Understated, noble, and full of emotion.

But in Knoxville, Tennessee, this is what they did when they chose to do the opera, Madama Butterfly:


These people do not look East Asian.

They do not look Japanese.

They look like what they are, which is Caucasians playing dress up.


This is the image that they used to advertise the show, which comes under the category of false advertising.


Which is why the ticket buyer who first posted and asked for help with this was so confused when she viewed the cast. She thought she was going to see East Asian American performers, so she purchased a ticket. This is right out of the RSC’s Orphan of Zhao playbook from several years ago. They too used images of East Asians and then had almost none in the actual staging.

Knoxville Opera took a stock image of an Japanese Woman in Traditional Garb, and then presented…what they presented. Which is hackneyed caricatures of East Asians, specifically Japanese people, and they went for the cheap laughs – they made their portrayals about the fun they had ‘playing’ East Asians, and not about the seriousness and passion of the music.

In short – they let Puccini down.

Everyone is just sitting in the audience thinking “How do they think that is ok?”

Instead of listening to the music.

Just what every composer wants, to be upstaged by bad makeup.


Now, TFP first heard of this on a FB group and the Original Poster was attacked by some members of the cast, on her opinions, as a East Asian woman, viewing these images. They have taken down the images off their FB and washed their lily white hands and thought that was the end of it.

However, her thoughts made it on to the internet, and they matched TFP‘s own about them.


These leads in Butterfly were not locals, they were hired. The singers were hired from out of town. Which means that representatives from Knoxville travelled to audition them elsewhere- hired space to hear them, a pianist, and house themselves for however long it took to do so.

Perhaps they had one day? Perhaps two.

Which means Knoxville Opera has the money and time to ‘travel’ people, which means they had the money and time to find ‘the right’ people if they insisted on doing a ‘classic’ interpretation – they just did not feel like bothering.

Guess when else they did not feel like bothering to get the right people?

This next image is from their  production last year of AIDA, which takes place in Egypt. It involves forbidden love between an Ethopian Princess, Aida, and an Egyptian warrior, Radamès.

It also involves blackface.

Which, TFP was pretty sure that every American knows is wrong….


Map of Ethiopia…

Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 12.18.05 PM

Do you imagine ANY of the above singers originating in Africa?



Here is the thing, Opera World and all those who inhabit it – the paint has got to go.

TFP gets you have old sets and costumes that you have to use – she understands – and whether a robe is bedazzled around the color or tied with a floral fabric – she does not particularly care.

Wigs are fine – as long as they are ‘good wigs’.

If you are wigging a production, COME CORRECT WITH THE HAIR!

You should change the wigs to match the natural hair or within range of the natural hair color of the performers….it is honestly not difficult and it looks a heck of a lot better….your performers will look more natural. Makes it easier for them to wear natural looking makeup.


It has variety and texture – and you keep using these sad, $2.99 wigs from the local Halloween store – it’s an insult to any performer to have to wear them, but wear them you do – it’s tragic.

If you cannot do a good wig – cut the wigs.

The Paint though, the paint has GOT to GO!


The MET has cut it, The Royal Opera in London has cut it. If you are an Opera Company, you have to keep current. You have to make sure you understand that what was acceptable then, can change. Look, Ballet Companies have been cutting the problematic portrayals in The Nutcracker, a holiday staple – if they can do it – an art form that evolved at roughly the same time as Opera… so can you.

There is no need for it – the audience understands that this is a story and it takes place in Long Ago, Far Away Land Not Really That Country In Truth.

In Long Ago Far Away Land, Not Really That Country In Truth, there are fantastical sets and circumstances – and that is ENOUGH  – don’t ADD!

No one needs to see cartoonish made up creatures built in the Hell’s Basement and brought to horrific life here on the stage, which can blithely be washed off with the audacity of a Caucasian thinking they have the right – when they have not walked the walk or sung the talk of a Person of Color.

Y’all really going to go out on the stage wearing two sets of eyebrows?

And think that is a handsome Asian male?


TFP knows that the South is not known for welcoming minorities but this has been an eye opener. She has a file of the ‘worst’ photos – most from productions of The Mikado from around the country – which btw is fairly depressing and these photos rival those!

She reminds you all that being Asian is not a costume, even if you think it is.


Then she read THE FOLLOWING is posted on their website:


WAIT just a MOMENT here – you have the audacity to claim that this opera is ‘for the community’, and then you ‘teach’ them yellowface?

What does that teach, oh TFP?

Well that ‘teaches’ that People of Color, no matter their talent level, are allowed on  stage at Caucasian say so, oh pupil.

That is what it teaches.

The societal role of denigrating People of Color for Caucasian entertainment.

Whilst claiming it is about education?


Driving TFP outta her damn mind!

So how do we fix this? We, the People of Color who want to go to a show and not come away feeling like the butt of a joke? Well, the opera in question has closed – but the company still exists – and that company relies on Patrons. That is, dollars.


As those listed above are their patrons, one could, one imagines, write to them and give them your thoughts on this issue.

If you can fly a Singer from out of town, or bus or truck them, you can fly an Asian Heritaged Singer  – if you do not have a line on an Asian Heritaged singer, lose the paint or do not do it.

By the by, we are all watching very closely now because they have they have announced HARRIET TUBMAN as their next piece….TFP gotta search for her eyeballs now because they have dropped out of her head…


Knoxville Opera, TFP fines you 1000 whacks of the wand – if you cast people based on their voices and their voice type – then celebrate them for who they are – do not paint them into racism, it’s just not cool.

You are messing up the music with this bullshit!

It wasn’t cool ‘then’, and it still is not now.

TFP out.