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From Madama Butterfly to Miss Saigon: changes in theatre over time 從蝴蝶夫人到西貢小姐: 劇場的時代變遷

From Madama Butterfly to Miss Saigon: changes in theatre over time

As a country with much military history in the past world wars, performances in war theme has its significance in the traditional theatres of America. Madama Butterfly the Opera by Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini, was a masterpiece first staged in 1904. It was largely adapted to other forms of performing arts including films, ballet, comic, music album, and musical. In 1989, Miss Saigon the musical by West End in London, and later in Broadway was inspired by the Opera and set against a more current war incident, the Vietnam War. With the change from formal Opera theatre to musical, performing elements were adapted to suit audience taste.

Madama Butterfly is a 3 hour long Italian opera featuring the tragic romantic story between an American naval officer and a Japanese teenage Geisha. The three acts were heavily influenced by Japanese elements including paper sliding door as movable set, choreographed paper lanterns, shadowed puppetry and Geisha dance. Even though the plot was dated back to over 100 years ago, the melancholy elegance remains timeless and highly appreciative.

Madama Butterfly Scene- Puppetry
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Madama Butterfly Scene- Paper Sliding Doors
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In the era where entertainment is handy and rapidly available in different variety, audiences are losing patience and attention to long duration performances. Razzle-Dazzle stage effect, fast paced storyline, and sense of relevance with an exotic touch became the formula of success.

Miss Saigon the musical is a typical example in which the soul of Madama Butterfly is stripped and recrowned to the contemporary Broadway style. In order to suit the taste of white audience, various plot developments were amended to a new perspective.

For instance, in Madama Butterfly, the Navy officer was depicted as a womanizer who married the Geisha for lust and profiting from property ownership in Japan. However, in Miss Saigon, soldiers who took advantages of forced Vietnam prostitutes, were crowned as saviour to those women who dreamed of marrying a foreigner to escape warfare. This change of characterization had purposefully boost patriotic heroism.

Other than change in characterization and plot in triggering empathy and resonance in audience, stage elements are also largely modified. While Madama Butterfly extracted minimalistic and elegant Japanese elements, Miss Saigon depicted a Vietnam setting predominantly influenced by Hollywood imagery. Through the western lens in interpreting the dystopian situation in Saigon and idolized American lifestyle, audience are perceiving the story from a western perspective rather than a foreign narrative. This change was more marketable and easier to be accepted by white audience.

In order to shorten the distance from audience, Broadway musical pushed to provide an immersive experience instead of a staged narrative. In the army retreat scene in Miss Saigon, an operating helicopter became the primary stage focus. Other than the almost one to one presence, a huge gust of wind was blown towards the audience in creating a scene ambiance.

With the new demand of immersive and interactive experience from audience, the narrative presentation of traditional opera theatre is being challenged. Converting to a Broadway style performance is one of the transformation. In the next scene, other means of live theatre re-productions will be introduced as traditional opera evolves overtime.

Miss Saigon scene- American Fantasy

從蝴蝶夫人到西貢小姐 : 劇場的時代變遷

作為一個擁有全面自衞武力 , 並經歷過不同時 代戰火洗禮的國度 , 戰爭主題於美國的傳統表演藝術中並不陌生。早於1904 年首演的歌劇《蝴蝶夫人》 , 是意大利歌劇大師 Giacomo Puccini 的著名作品。在創作後至今百餘年間 , 先後以電影 , 芭蕾舞劇 , 漫畫 , 音樂專輯 , 及音樂劇等不同面貌再次面世。其中倫敦西盡則以 較近期的越南戰爭作背景 , 於1989 年把歌劇改編為音樂劇《西貢小姐》並在紐約百老匯上上演。從正式歌劇改編為音樂劇 , 不少表演元素都加以迎合現代觀眾的口味。

《蝴蝶夫人》是一部講述美國水軍師令與日本 歌妓之間的愛情悲劇 , 歷時三小時的意大利歌劇。劇中三幕均帶有厚重的大和文化元素 , 當中包括以和式紙門為可移動佈景、以紙燈籠編舞、皮影戲 , 以及歌妓舞蹈等。縱使故事背景發生在一百多年前 , 當中滲透出的淒美典雅卻仍不失韻味。

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然而 , 於二十一世紀要維持歌劇的受歡迎程度 卻是一個重大挑戰。除了票價昂貴、劇目偏長、以古典外語為媒介、要求觀眾作端裝打扮入場外 , 觀眾的期望與反饋亦是歌劇轉型至音樂劇的主要因素。

在《蝴蝶夫人》中被描繪為花花公子的水軍師 令 , 曾一度為了在日本投資置業 , 及貪婪於歌妓的年輕美貌而騙她下嫁 , 受到觀眾唾棄。然而 , 在《西貢小姐》中那些幻想以性和婚姻以逃離戰火的絕望婦女 , 雖然同樣地被美軍視為倡妓蹂躪 , 但負心的軍人卻獲得被憐憫的濾鏡 , 飽受觀眾同情。這種角色設定的轉變充分迎合愛國情結及英雄主義。

除了以劇目和角色設定的轉變去獲得觀眾共鳴 和同理心外 , 舞台元素也有大幅改動。《蝴蝶夫人》所 呈現的 , 是從歌妓角度描述的日式典雅簡約主義 ;《西 貢小姐》所描繪的越南 , 卻是一個過度荷里活化的景象。從西方濾鏡展示的西貢 , 是一個崇拜美式生活的反烏托邦 - 觀眾所感受到的越南 , 大部分出於美軍的角度和想像。這個演釋角度較易從白人觀眾中獲得共鳴和接納。

為了進一步縮窄與觀眾的距離感 , 百老匯音樂 劇以浸入式觀感去取締説書式的舞台旁述。在《西貢小姐》美軍撤離西貢的一幕中 , 一架正在發動的直升機成 了舞台的主角。除了幾乎一比一的像真度外 , 觀眾亦被強風括面的臨場感所震撼。

在娛樂為速食文化的世代 , 觀眾群都對於歷時 甚久的表演失去耐性。取而代之的 , 是令人眩目的舞台特效、緊奏的大綱 , 以及容易墮入並帶有異國情調的方程式。

《西貢小姐》正是一個從歌劇《蝴蝶夫人》簡 化並重生成現代百老匯型式的作品。為了迎合白人觀眾 的口味 , 劇目的發展都配以斟新的角度演釋。

在觀眾對浸入式和互動式表演的需求下 , 傳統 歌劇的序述式演出受到考驗。然而 , 轉型為百老匯式演出只是其中一種現代化的型式。下一景將會介紹傳統歌劇隨時代演化的其他二次製作方式。