Friday, July 31, 2009

Operamania 101: It's Getting Hot In Here

VO blog readers in Vancouver and the lower mainland will get why I chose Malcolm McLaren's Madame Butterfly as this week's OperaMania 101.

The past few days with its record breaking temperatures and humidity have left almost of all us wishing for an end to this heatwave. As Vancouver is normally temperate in climate, I think like 99% of people here do not have air conditioning at home. So fellow Vancouverites in the 99% boat (myself included), this one's for you.

Who would've thought that the man who introduced the world to 70s punk act, The Sex Pistols and opened a fetish inspired boutique called Sex with fashion designer Vivienne Westwood would later make his mark with opera? McLaren who also managed 80s groups Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow, released Fans in 1984. The EP blended opera, hip hop and electronica with its pop adaptations on famous operatic arias from Bizet's Carmen and Puccini's Turandot and Madame Butterfly.

Written by McLaren and produced by Stephen Hague, Madame Butterfly (Un bel di vedremo) with its slow beats of the drum machines and airy synthesizers complemented McLaren's spoken word as Pinkerton.

What may have sounded like disaster on paper was in fact transcendent upon listening. Fans became a huge international seller and charted in the top 20 in the UK.

Choosing not to tell the story literally, McLaren envisioned for the dream-like video, a procession of scantily clad women in flesh coloured leotards hanging out in a turkish steam room.

The runway model type women look distant, detached and distracted, possibly thinking of and waiting for their own Pinkertons. Whether reading a letter, crying, getting a massage, waiting or dragging their drape sheets around, the images of these women with their heavy makeup are hypnotic. I wouldn't even be surprised if Madame Butterfly inspired the 1985 Robert Palmer women-centric video, Addicted to Love.

But as I watch this video, I'm thinking, "Boy, they look like they're absolutely melting in that steam room." If it's at all possible, I'm getting hotter than I already am just by watching this video. And hence the Vancouver connect.

McLaren would continue his love of opera by sampling another aria; this time for the award winning 1989 British Airway commercial, featuring Lakme.

Keep cool Vancouver. Stay out of the saunas and the steam rooms. See you at the pool instead.

~ Ling Chan

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