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New Madama Butterfly Exhibits Brings Opera Out of the Archives and into Students' Hands

A special collection in USC’s music library, a professor’s innovative approach to teaching opera and a talented group of students have all come together to create a striking new exhibit in the School of Music.

Drawing on USC University Libraries’ Madama Butterfly collection of unique and rare materials related to Giacomo Puccini’s opera of the same name, Professor Kunio Hara’s students spent last semester creating the exhibit. On display in the Music Library through the end of March, the exhibit features student work from a class titled “The Analytical Approaches to Madama Butterfly”. It incorporates the archival visual materials that the students studied with the students' final research paper for the class, which covers different thematic elements of the opera.

Madama Butterfly Exhibit

Arguably one of the most frequently performed operas in the world, Madama Butterfly offers students the opportunity to analyze rich themes of gender, race and inclusivity. However, Hara noted, “the challenge of this collection is that a lot of the material, maybe half of the material, is in Japanese. I can read Japanese, but it’s hard for students to process, even with Google translate.”

Madama Butterfly ProfessorTherefore, the students relied heavily on the visual aspects of the collection, which includes programs and publications from the 1940s and 50s. Hara wanted to make the collection interesting to the students, as many of them had never dealt with archival research before.

“Giving the students more flexibility in topics they want to pursue gives them ownership, which makes them more interested in the project, and makes it more student-driven,” Hara said. When students are confronted with rare material in this setting, Hara has found, it brings a new level of depth and interest to the subject matter of a research project.

“In this age of digital material and digital access, which is super important, access to physical material does seem to excite the students in different ways,” Hara said. “I was so incredibly grateful that our archivists were very open to this idea to let the students explore the material.”Madama Butterfly Presenter

Hara has written on Madama Butterfly before, which provided yet another layer of accessibility to the in-depth scholarship behind the opera. “It was great to learn from somebody who had written so much of the literature itself,” said Kate Falvey, an undergraduate music major who took the class and had work on display. “The class was set up in a way that was really accessible for an undergraduate student.”

The exhibit also includes some materials from the Madama Butterfly collection on display alongside the student work. Hara, along with Ana Dubnjakovic, Head of the Music Library, and Jen Wochner, Music Archivist hosted an exhibit opening for students this week. The students had the opportunity to show off their hard work to their friends and family and present an overview of their projects and contributions to the exhibit.

“I feel like my mission as a music historian has been accomplished”, said Hara after the presentations.

The exhibit will be up until the end of March. Check it out in the Music Library, located in the School of Music.

Madama Butterfly Class

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