M. Butterfly Questions and Answers
by David Henry Hwang

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What theatrical techniques from Asian cultural theater are used in M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang?

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Looked at it from a Western perspective, Chinese opera appears as a joining of mime, speech, singing, and instrumental accompaniment—in other words, it is more of a mixed genre than European opera is. It is precisely this seemingly mixed character that is reproduced in M. Butterfly. Gallimard narrates the story, but the theatrical presentation is one of a melange of elements. For instance, in the play's opening, Song appears first singing and dancing Chinese opera as a background to Gallimard's recollections. The music then changes to Puccini's Madama Butterfly, unsurprisingly. The juxtaposition is part of the basic theme of the play: that of Asia being overlaid, as it were, by the assumptions and stereotypes Westerners have created of it. The outline of the play is that of a constantly changing phantasm, a movement between past and present, and East and West.

That said, Western theatrical and operatic stagings have themselves become so free and fluid—and have been influenced by Asian...

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