Ozawa describes the experience of directing “Butterfly” as one of battling with the opera’s problematic performance history as well as with his own preconceptions, and his personal journey with the piece reflects how the opera world at large is negotiating the challenge of serving the multicultural audiences of today while performing works steeped in the cultural assumptions of the past.
“When they said we need to do a more traditional ‘Butterfly’ with a traditional set, I sat on it for a little bit, and I did ask a director friend of mine, ‘Look, I feel this is going to be very difficult for me to do.’ And we chatted about it, and suddenly I was like, ‘I have to do it. I’m half Japanese and half American. I’m meant to do this piece. But I have to find it for myself.’ I was like, ‘This could be a disaster for me personally and artistically. Am I going to be able to do something that’s not caricature and stereotype?’ Because that’s all I’ve ever seen. And so I put a challenge to myself.
You grow as an artist out of discomfort. You have to keep pushing yourself.”