Kangmin Justin Kim Transports Us Through Time and Culture with M. Butterfly

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Bad romances don’t come much better than the complicated relationship at the heart of M. Butterfly. Host Jane Trembley talks fantasy versus reality with countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim before his Santa Fe Opera and U.S. mainstage debut as Song Liling in this operatic world premiere.

The pair also discuss the psychology behind Justin's character, transitioning from musical theater to opera, and building representation in the classical music community.

“There are a lot of dichotomies in this piece,” Justin says of the lopsided love affair between French diplomat René Gallimard and Song Liling, the Beijing opera star who exploits Gallimard’s self-delusion to secure their own safety. “[There’s] lots of East and West, man and woman, truth and lies. It's very yin yang.”

The highly anticipated world premiere, delayed two years by pandemic-related scheduling conflicts, is an inventive operatic reworking by David Henry Hwang of his iconic 1988 Tony Award-winning musical. Composer Huang Ruo’s score complements Hwang’s libretto perfectly, providing intelligent references to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and an increasingly distorted soundscape against which Gallimard and Liling's relationship reaches its inevitable conclusion.

Revisiting decades-old source material is not without its challenges. “I want people to understand that this is a period piece,” says Justin. “M. Butterfly lives in the past, and we need to watch this opera through the lens of the 1960s and the late 1980s when the play was first presented to the world.”

He challenges audiences to consider how far we’ve come in addressing issues connected to sexual orientation, gender identity, and Imperialism––and how far we’ve yet to go.


Kangmin Justin Kim – Countertenor







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Destination Santa Fe Opera is a Santa Fe Opera podcast, produced and edited by Andrea Klunder at The Creative Impostor Studios.

Post-Production Audio: Edwin R. Ruiz

Hosted by: Jane Trembley

Show Notes by: Lisa Widder


Learn more about the Santa Fe Opera and plan your visit at https://www.santafeopera.org.

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