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Tin Pan OperaOperatic Novelty Songs in the Ragtime Era$
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Larry Hamberlin

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195338928

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195338928.001.0001

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Poor Little Butterfly

Poor Little Butterfly

(p.145) Chapter 5 Poor Little Butterfly
Tin Pan Opera

Larry Hamberlin

Oxford University Press

Of all operatic characters, the most influential on American popular culture was Cho-Cho-San, the title character of Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly. This chapter surveys the large repertoire of Butterfly songs, which, like the opera, allegorize the United States' flexing of imperialistic muscle in the Far East as a love story between a powerful American man and a powerless Japanese woman. Unlike the opera, these popular songs, of which “Poor Butterfly” emerges as the most important, explore a wide range of alternative readings of that allegory, from validating Pinkerton as hero, not villain, to empowering Cho-Cho-San.

Keywords:   opera, popular songs, Giacomo Puccini, Madama Butterfly, Madame Butterfly, Poor Butterfly, imperialism

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