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M. Butterfly

Destination Santa Fe Opera - Kangmin Justin Kim Transports Us Through Time and Culture with M. Butterfly


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

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 US 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






Mentioned in this Episode

DSFO0206 – Larger Than Life: Verdi’s Falstaff with Quinn Kelsey

La Bien Aimée


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


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“What I try to achieve when I’m performing is to give the sense of ease and sense of like naturality that anybody in the audience can just sit there and feel like, oh, like, I can do that too!”

“I like to think that a part of the character always lives in me.” 

“There are some words that could be triggering, but this is authentic to the setting of the piece. So I want people to be challenged and not so triggered, but to see how much progress we have made in the last half-century with how Asia is viewed.”

“I think people will definitely take away from this how timeless great stories are.”

“I have had so many people who are huge musical theater fans who have turned to opera now because they see the approachability and they see the common goal of just wanting to tell a great story through a great art form.”