Moonstruck, Madame Butterfly and the Mudlark

“Bring me the big knife; I’m gonna cut my throat!”*

Several nights ago, as we walked in a chilly, blowing drizzle across the street from the Metropolitan Opera, I stopped, even as the crosswalk sign suggested we proceed.
“What are you doing?” asked George Rodrigue, as I explained that I saw Cher in my head, breathtaking, emerging from a New York City taxi to meet Nicholas Cage after sighing that morning, “Where’s the Met?”

“I love two things,” he said (the ‘he’ in my head is George or Cage; take your pick).  “I love you, and I love the Opera.  If I can have the two things that I love together for one night, I will be satisfied to give up, oh God, the rest of my life.”

The surrealism intensified as we entered the theatre.  As the chandeliers ascended into the ceiling, I imagined that I sat in her seat and experienced the Opera for the first time, despite my Viennese immersion during a study abroad program years ago.
(pictured, Wings of the Dog, 1999; A Night at the Opera, 1985; both by George Rodrigue)
“I know!” exclaimed Cher, still in my head at intermission.  “I mean, she was coughing her brains out, and still she had to keep singing!”
As Madame Butterfly sings good-bye to her son, portrayed by a Bunraku puppet and three masterful puppeteers, she lifts the knife to her own throat, stabbing herself with both the blade and the pain of love betrayed.  The tears covered my face, and I was Cher again, as Mimi and Rodolfo (Puccini’s La bohéme) sing of their passionate love, despite Mimi’s wretched illness as she dies of consumption.
(unless you were there, you’ve just got to watch this, the magnificent Patricia Racette and her son, a Bunraku puppet, in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly‘s finale)

Men! I choked out, as though I were Cher, after the performance.  If anyone deserved to die it was that horrible Pinkerton!

“That’s the way it was…..” started George/Cage, wisely stopping mid-sentence.
(As if the production weren’t stunning enough already, Placido Domingo, mid-stage, stands alongside Patricia Racette and directed the orchestra; click photo to enlarge)
Two days later we found ourselves at The Mudlark Confectionary, a performance theatre in the Katrina-ravaged St. Roch neighborhood, just a few blocks from our Faubourg Marigny home.
Far from the Met, we hurried, sans jewelry, from the dark, abandoned street into the front room of a tiny New Orleans cottage.  Looking up, George and I gasped at the sophisticated, awesome puppets, recalling our Lincoln Center experience in the most unlikely of places.
“It’s like Madame Butterfly in the dream sequence,” I whispered to George, who nodded, snapping pictures as we waited between performances.
To begin, Sir Lady Indee removed her clothes, layer by layer, on stage, until I thought surely she would stand naked before us.  George grabbed my leg, and I grew flush, as I imagined, prudishly, sitting in a room with a conservative friend, also on our adventure, as we stared at the au natural Indee some six feet in front of us.
Fortunately she stopped at her step-ins, redressing herself from a roll of cellophane anchored to the wall.  As she rolled the clear plastic tightly around her skin, she enchanted us all.  She spoke of desire, passion, and indulgence, and I thought of Butterfly, confident in her wedding-kimono, even as Pinkerton planned (deep down) to abandon her.

-be sure and click the photo to enlarge-

“I ain’t no freakin’ monument to justice!” shouted Cage, in the movie and in my head. “I lost my hand!  I lost my bride!  Johnny has his hand!  Johnny has his bride!  You want me to take my heartache, put it away and forget?”

Elliot, a woman, seemingly a man, seemingly a woman (not in the least to be confused with Victor Victoria) took the stage.

“Is that a man or a woman?” whispered George.

“A woman,” I said, thinking, Does it matter?

With a bird’s voice, sometimes a lark, sometimes a gull, she sang her own anguished creed, alternating between the banjo, bass drum, classical guitar, and small electric piano.

“I’m from Philadelphia,” she explained.

The audience cheered in support, as did New Orleans artist James Michalopoulos, our co-host with his wife Reese Johanson, founder of Artist Inc, both great advocates of New Orleans theatre. “Rocky!” shouted James, caught up in the moment.
Elliot, consumed by her expression, began her hometown lament a capella.

“This is the most tormented man I have ever known,” said Chrissy in the movie and in my head.

After five songs, we left, passing on the cds but leaving $20 on the table.  Although we appreciated the performances and will revisit the Mudlark on another day, at that moment we never wanted to hear such agony again.

“I’m in love with this man,” continued Chrissy about Ronnie Cammareri (Cage), “but he doesn’t know that, ‘cause I never told him, ‘cause he could never love anybody since he lost his hand and his girl.”

Once home, George shook his head and organized his photos, now sprinkled throughout this post.  “I’m a little afraid to ask,” he said…

“…but what are we doing tomorrow?”

*unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from the movie Moonstruck, 1987-

-for a related post see “A Night at the Opera,” a story I wrote for Gambit, posted here

-also this week, Lafayette artist Francis Pavy in my latest post for Gambit, linked here

4 thoughts on “Moonstruck, Madame Butterfly and the Mudlark

  1. Oh I love it!! Great post. I felt like I was at the Met and then whisked away to some tiny, obscure theatre. I'd like to know what brought you there, and how you got George to go with you!! The accompanying photographs complete the trip! "You have such a head for knowing!"

  2. Love your writing, Wendy. It's not too difficult to imagine being seated next to you and hearing the exchange with George and taking in what you are seeing… Ed W

  3. Several nights ago, as we walked in a chilly, blowing drizzle across the street from the Metropolitan Opera, I stopped, even as the crosswalk sign suggested we proceed. Great stuff!

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