"Reductionism Redivivus? Bionarratological Simplicity in Puccini's Madama Butterfly"

Brett Cooke


Sometimes in art less is more, especially when that "less" comprises well-chosen epigenetic tendencies. Biopoetic analysis of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, especially the second act, speaks to the enormous aesthetic force created by the mere clash of the common female reproductive strategy of sexual conservatism with the male option of philandering. Other than some mild references to ethnic conflict (she is the Japanese bride of an American sailor), little else happens-or is necessary. This opera classic is contrasted with a disappointing work by the same composer, La fanciulla del West, where a complex interplay of epigenetic forces is undermined by the motif of "woman rescues man." This structure bucks the normal theme of "man rescues woman," found in every full-length ballet classic and, indeed, it also seems to keep Beethoven's Fidelio off the stage. Although the music in all three cases, especially Beethoven's, is truly exceptional, these bionarratological considerations seem to spell the difference between aesthetic success and failure.


Back to Literature, Cognition & the Brain