Friday, June 23, 2006

Madama Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton

An interesting new exhibit has been installed at the Asian Art Museum.

It's called "A Curious Affair: The Fascination Between East and West."

The exhibit consists of one room filled with objects, mostly stretching from the 17th through 19th centuries, that picture and incorporate The Other from both sides of the equation.

Asian art picturing Western travelers and Western art picturing Asians are freely mingled, along with antique furniture and decorative pieces that include fantasy details of the other culture.

Across the Civic Center Plaza, the wildly cross-cultural "Madama Butterfly" continues its run at the San Francisco Opera.

A Japanese geisha singing in Italian while being seduced and abandoned by a brutish American naval officer pretty much defines East and West fascination and misapprehension.

After some backstage melodrama, one of the six supernumeraries who was playing the very complex and difficult part of a Kabuki-style kuroko dropped out of the show in the middle of the run.

So I was called on the day of the performance, as the official cover, to take over the part.

The dozen supernumeraries are about half Western gringos and half Asian...

...though I don't think there is an actual Japanese or Italian person in the bunch, excepting Steve Lavezzoli below.

That evening when I first filled in last Friday was quite terrifying, because the role is both extremely complex and precise, with lots of spike marks where props are to be delivered and screens moved.

Just to make it even more difficult and like an anxiety dream come to life, we wear a black veil through the entire show which makes vision somewhat challenging, particularly with stage lights shining straight into one's eyes.

I managed to survive the evening without any major mishaps, watched Patricia Racette kill herself with her sword right after singing over the monster orchestra from a few feet away, and then received a nice surprise.

The six kurokos had their own curtain call where we got to rip the veils off of our head, drag-queen style, and take a bow. Since the opera had just ended and the diva-worshiping audience was going insane, the ovation was an astonishing rush of energy and sound. I almost floated off the stage.


Lisa at Fragile Industries Studios said...

Hi SF Mike:

This is incredible! I am so excited for you!

A friend sent me a link to the post about Madama Butterfly. I was a long-time super with the SF Opera unti two years ago, when I moved down the coast. I know everyone in the photos. In fact, I played a kuroko every time this production came up -- the first run was a marathon 30-performances-in-30-days (three casts, same kuroko every time) in 1996. Whew! Please say hello to everyone, especially Steve and Kimberly, and did I see Charley L. under one of those veils??? I am only a little jealous. Out of everything I miss about SF, the opera and all the lovely people there are at the top of the list.

I have a blog at
that includes an opera photo album on the sidebar. You'll recognize everyone.

"Butterfly" is my absolute favorite opera and my favorite super experience; it was also the most complex. I completely identified with your description. Getting a curtain call was the cherry on top of the cupcake. During that last suicide watch scene, I cried every time. That's probably over 50 performances. Good thing there was a veil!

Anyway, bravo, bravo, bravo bravissimo -- I'm glad the role is in good hands.


AlbGlinka said...

Good for you Mike! You're quite in demand over there, interesting. Would love to hear the backstage drama, but maybe it's more interesting not to know. --Grovebert

Trevor Murphy said...

You don't think 'stealthy opera ninja' has a better ring to it?