"One Fine Day" at Seattle Opera

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07_gallery_butterfly-costumes.jpg

Puccini's music (and opera is all about the music) swirls and swells like the turbulent sea under Carlo Montanaro's sensitive baton. In his US Navy dress whites, Pinkerton, the despicable villain of the piece, rents a house above Nagasaki; it comes with a teenage geisha, Butterfly. In his arrogance, he thinks of her as a plaything; in her innocence, she thinks of him as a god. (Yes, in opera, both the well-traveled naval officer and the supposedly worldly geisha can be culturally clueless.) The music tells you it's not going to end well, but then, soon after intermission, the orchestra goes dead silent. Butterfly has been commiserating with her maid, Suzuki, about Pinkerton's absence, three years now. Oh dear, the poor girl thinks he's coming back, yet Suzuki knows better. One second of silence, two seconds, three. Then Butterfly stands and delivers one of the great arias in opera: Un Bel Di, One Fine Day. One fine day he'll come back to me.

We know he won't, of course. Well, he will, but he'll be bringing his new American wife along. And Mr. and Mrs. Pinkerton will leave Nagasaki again, this time with Butterfly's son. And Butterfly will kill herself at the final curtain, just as Carmen does, just as Tosca does. But first Butterfly has to suffer increasing humiliation, betrayal, and abandonment.

Seattle Opera's General Director Aidan Lang commissioned three Aussies--Kate Cherry (stage director), Christina Smith (production designer), and Matt Scott (lighting)--to design the handsome production. The casting, needlessly fraught with racial sensitivities, was essentially color blind. The great Patricia Racette, who has lived and worked in Japan, sang the role here in Seattle five years ago. One of the current Butterfly sopranos was Japanese, the other Armenian. One of the Pinkerton tenors was Russian, the other American. (Tradition has it that Pinkerton gets roundly booed at his curtain call.) Butterfly is not "about" Japan any more than Carmen is "about" gypsies. Porgy & Bess is never performed by white actors in blackface because the copyright expressly forbids it. Is Gilbert & Sullivan's operetta "The Mikado" offensive? Is "Flower Drum Song"?

The most abhorrent character in Butterfly is the American officer, Pinkerton, who is Caucasian. Harrumph. As a Caucasian veteran of military service should I be offended?

Seattle Opera presents Madame Butterfly at McCaw Hall through Aug. 19th. Seattle Opera photo of Butterfly's silk brocade © Genevieve Hathaway

Amazon wakes up, smells coffee.

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Wake Up & Smell.JPGBack in 2013, Brad Stone published a book about Jeff Bezos and Amazon titled "The Everything Store."It won "business book of the year" awards from Forbes, the Washington Post, the Economist and Bloomberg, among others. You can buy a paperback copy (yes, on Amazon) for $11.21.

Indeed, Amazon may have started out by selling book,s but today it seems to be selling everything. Earlier this year it took its biggest bite yet, bidding nearly $14 billion for Whole Foods Market.

But what, in all its "everything," is its best-selling food item? You could do this as a bar bet because the answer is something of a surprise. Or not, if you stop to think about it.

It's coffee, which accounts for three of Amazon's best-selling food brands: San Francisco Bay Coffee, comes in at number one, Green Mountain Coffee is in the third spot, and Starbucks (remember them) is number five.

It's counter-intuitive, though, because San Francisco Bay Coffee doesn't have a particularly high profile. Ah, but wait: they're very big in social media--just click through to their website. They're in Costco, too. How did this upstart zip past Starbucks?

And here again the answer is that you don't have to build ten thousand (or even ten) stores to sell online. The CEO of One Click Retail, Spencer Millerberg, calls it "the democratization of retail."

He continues, "This ... allows ANY brand to compete, not just historically incumbent brands who captured the brick and mortar shelf."

And so it was that Millerberg's analysis discovered that Amazon's best-selling food item isn't the KIND bar (it came in second) or Gerber baby food (fourth place) but the San Francisco brand that opens its coffee shops at night so stray dogs have a place to sleep.

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