Madam Butterfly and a pointless discussion about colonialism

Welsh National Opera’s new version of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly opens today. To help audiences understand the opera’s historical significance this week the producers staged an online discussion, ‘The Long Arm of Imperialism.’  It was chaired by professor Priyamvada Gopal who teaches postcolonial studies at Cambridge. She began by reminding us that many of the greatest operas in the canon were written in the 19th century, ‘when 85 per cent of the earth was, in some form or other, annexed to the cultural project…so there is no culture untouched by that project.’ In addition, she said, the concept of west-versus-east was a creation of colonialism: ‘The familiar categories of the west and the east…are