ON the day the United Kingdom sent a letter to Brussels, starting the process of leaving the European Union, I sent a letter (cheque enclosed) to the Ipswich office of Suffolk Archive Service. It seemed appropriate.
It was Brexit that started me on my quest to uncover my great-grandfather William Henry Feeney’s early life. The Daughter Who Left held out hopes that it would qualify her for an Irish passport, and continued EU citizenship when the UK finally severs its ties to the EU.
Sadly for her, it now appears that old William Henry may have been born, not in Ireland, but in Ipswich, starting out at a young age on a career in the British Army which ended with a posting to west Wales, and eventual marriage to my great-grandmother.
The notes from the 1870 Regimental Board meeting that discharged him reads: “His name appears five times entered in the Regimental Defaulters book, including one court-martial and one civil conviction (tried and imprisoned for assault). His conduct has been good.”
Which begs the question: what did you have to do, in the British Army in the 19th Century, before your conduct was judged bad?
Facing up to reality
THE Daughter joined The Current Mrs Feeney and I to watch a live cinema screening of a performance of Madama Butterfly on Thursday. It was her first experience of opera.
She did not enjoy it much. She couldn’t understand what they were singing (in Italian), and was distracted by the English subtitles running along the bottom of the screen.
I was struck by something else, however; the cinematic close-up shots made it obvious that Butterfly was being sung by a non-Asian soprano.
I knew that before the performance began, of course, and it is hardly unusual. Did it even matter? Her voice was beautiful, and she portrayed the character’s journey from teenage geisha to tragic mother with huge skill.
From the stalls, it would not have even been noticeable. It’s just that, on a cinema screen, everything is enlarged and emphasised.
Behind the mask
AS it happened, TCMrsF and I were back in the same cinema on Friday – and back in the Far East, to see Ghost in the Shell, the first big Hollywood live-action adaptation of a Japanese animé film.
The lead character is a first-of-its-kind creation; a cyber-enhanced robotic body (Shell) inhabited by a human brain (Ghost). It (she?) is played by Scarlett Johansson, and we both thought that she was very good at portraying the machine/person’s growing crisis as the human intrudes on the manufactured.
But Johansson’s casting in the role, which was clearly Asian in the animé (and preceding Manga comic) version, sparked a furious debate about Hollywood “whitewashing” non-white characters.
I understand why people were angry; but it made me wonder if Japanese opera lovers were similarly unhappy about a Western Butterfly – or does the Geisha make-up mean the issue of is irrelevant?