Article references David Rain's "wildly inventive book"
Today’s New York Times music section features an article called “Liberating the Librettos” by Anthony Tommasini, the paper’s chief music critic, which explores the subject of “opera what-ifs.” Here’s an excerpt:
“Most opera fans are intensely involved with the characters of great operas. We are protective of them, even the evil ones.
“There is a lively realm of fan fiction focused on movie and television characters, in which viewers share ideas on how some breakup or betrayal might turn out. Opera fans, by contrast, are fixated on characters who have been around for generations, even centuries. The plots of favorite operas have long been cemented in our minds.
“Yet we, too, like to speculate on what happens after the final curtain falls. Several recent books grapple with Puccini’s ‘Madama Butterfly,’ imagining what happens to the 3-year-old boy, nicknamed Trouble, born to the caddish Lieutenant Pinkerton and Cio-Cio San, the geisha who commits suicide […]
“In the opera, set in Nagasaki, Pinkerton shows up with his ‘real’ wife, a proper American woman named Kate, and proposes to take Trouble from his mother, Cio-Cio San, and raise him in America. This impels the humiliated Cio-Cio San to commit suicide.
“How will Pinkerton’s life in America work out? Several writers have grappled with this enticing story, most recently David Rain in his debut novel, ‘The Heat of the Sun,’ released last year. In Mr. Rain’s wildly inventive book, Pinkerton becomes an influential United States senator. Trouble lives up to his nickname. Small-framed, handsome and secretive, he is a charismatic rebel.
“The story is narrated by Woodley Sharpless, the orphaned son of the United States consul in the opera. That these young men just happen to meet while attending the same school in America, though implausible, provides an engaging plot twist. They both get swept up in momentous events of the century, including top-secret work on the atomic bomb outside Los Alamos.
“My fantasy about the Pinkerton family is not nearly as elaborate. I think Pinkerton is devastated by Butterfly’s suicide. Still, her death literally removes her from his life and, eventually, his thoughts. He gets over it. Going into politics? That somehow seems right.
“What happens to Trouble would depend upon how open his father and stepmother are about his infancy. I imagine that they keep the story murky, and Trouble winds up struggling.
“Having read ‘The Heat of the Sun,’ I will go back to the opera and see what clues I may have missed.”