The Japanese Geisha Butterfly and the navy-officer Pinkerton decide to marry. After three years he returns with his new American wife. Butterfly is heartbroken, gives up their son and commits suicide.
The American navy-officer Pinkerton decides to marry the young Japanese geisha Madama Butterfly but he has no plans to remain faithful to her. They celebrate and spend the wedding night together before he leaves for America.
After having waited for three years to see him return, Butterfly finally gets a message from the Consul Sharpless that her husband has announced that he is coming. She is full of joy and looks forward to showing him his son, who was conceived on the wedding night.
When Pinkerton finally arrives, he is accompanied by his American wife. Overcome with remorse, Pinkerton doesn't dare to meet Butterfly in person.
Finding out the truth, Butterfly agrees to give up her son who will go with the Pinkerton's back to America. She takes a tearful farewell of her little son, takes a sword and kills herself.
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in Italian
About 2 hours 30 min + intervals
A bungalow on a hill near Nagasaki, Japan
A young American naval officer named Pinkerton, rents a house, and Goro, the marriage broker, demonstrates the features of the house, including sliding walls. Pinkerton asks where the bridal chamber is and Goro answers “Here or there … it depends”. Everything can be changed with the sliding walls.
Then he introduces Suzuki who is the bride’s maid, cook and servant.
At some distance the American Consul Sharpless is heard approaching. They sit down and have a drink and Pinkerton tells the Consul that he has bought the house for nine hundred and ninety-nine years, with the option each month, of annulling the contract. This also goes for the marriage he is going to enter with the 15-year-old Japanese girl, called Madama Butterfly.
Goro fetches Butterfly and while he is away Pinkerton admits that this marriage is only temporary. One day he will marry a real American wife.
Goro returns and reports that Butterfly and her friends are coming up the hill. After a while more people are coming and Goro explains: they are all Butterfly’s relatives. After some greeting ceremonies Butterfly takes Pinkerton aside and confides in him that she has secretly converted to Christianity. After some further congratulations Sharpless leaves, saying to Pinkerton: Be sensible! Pinkerton is now alone with his new family and they drink to the new bonds between them.
From far away the voice of Uncle Bonzo is heard shouting to Butterfly: Abomination! The relatives and friends turn pale with fear. What did you do at the Mission? asks Bonzo when he comes closer. You have renounced us! he says and orders all present to leave, which they do, and Pinkerton and Butterfly are left alone. They sing a long love duet and then go into the house to spend their wedding night together.
Inside Butterfly’s house
Three years have passed since Pinkerton left Nagasaki, and Butterfly hasn’t heard a word from him. Suzuki, her maid, is praying in front of a Buddha image: May Butterfly weep no more! Butterfly has a deeper belief in the American god but he probably doesn’t know about her situation. They are running out of money and Suzuki doesn’t believe he will ever come back. Butterfly is still convinced that he will come back. One fine day we’ll see a wisp of smoke rising from the distant horizon of the sea, she says and dreams of his return. Keep your tears to yourself, she says to Suzuki. I shall await him with unshakeable faith.
Suzuki goes out and Goro and Sharpless appear in the garden. Sharpless knocks on the door and enters. They sit down together and the Consul produces a letter from Pinkerton. Butterfly is happy but asks Sharpless: When do robins build their nests in America? Sharpless doesn’t understand. And Butterfly explains that her husband said, before he left, that he would be back when the robin is building his nest again. And here he has already built it three times.
Goro comes in, overhears the conversation and bursts out laughing. Butterfly doesn’t like him, she confides to Sharpless. He has come ever since her husband left and tried to make her marry other men. He introduces the rich Yamadori to her, but she turns him down. She is already married. Goro interferes and refers to Japanese law, which says that a deserted women is equal to a divorcee. But not according to American law, replies Butterfly and Sharpless has to agree. In an aside, Sharpless tells Goro that Pinkerton is too ashamed to see Butterfly.
The ship has been sighted. Goro and Yamadori leave and Sharpless tries to explain what Pinkerton has written in his letter – but she won’t listen. When Sharpless asks what she would do if Pinkerton never came back, she answers: I would either become a geisha and entertain people or else I would die.
Sharpless tries to convince her to marry Yamadori, but she becomes furious and asks him to leave. Sharpless admits that he was insensitive and they reconcile. She leaves the room and returns with her baby. Is it his? Sharpless asks. Whoever saw a Japanese baby with blue eyes? she responds. He doesn’t know, he was far away in his own country. But please write to him and tell him about his son. Sharpless promises and leaves. Suzuki comes in, upset, with Goro, who has been spreading rumours that no one know who the father is. Butterfly runs to the shrine and takes a sword hanging there. Suzuki stops her and Goro runs away.
A cannon shot is heard from the harbour. Butterfly finds a pair of binoculars, sees the American flag and can read the name of the ship. It’s his! Both women are full of joy and Suzuki runs out in the garden and returns with an armful of flowers and together they decorate the house. Night falls, the rays of the moon light up the house from the outside. Distant sounds of voices humming are heard.
The following morning
Butterfly is standing motionless and looks out. Suzuki and the baby are sleeping. Suzuki awakes and Butterfly takes the baby and goes upstairs. A gentle knock is heard and Suzuki opens the door. Sharpless and Pinkerton enter. Suzuki explains that Butterfly has been awake all night and now she has gone to sleep.
Pinkerton learns that she has checked all the ships in the harbour for the past three years. He also notices the flowers and Sharpless softly says: Didn’t I tell you? Suzuki catches sight of a woman in the garden and hesitantly admits that it is his wife. Suzuki mumbles: For the little one the sun has gone out. Sharpless is also overwhelmed with grief but says that we must look to the child’s future.
Pinkerton is overcome with remorse and doesn’t want to meet Butterfly face to face. He leaves the room to wait outside. Kate, Pinkerton’s wife promises Suzuki to care for the child like a son. Butterfly comes down and Suzuki explains the whole situation.
There is a short confrontation between Kate and Butterfly, and Butterfly promises that she will give Pinkerton his son if he comes to fetch him. She takes the sword, begs farewell to her son and goes behind a screen, where she kills herself. From outside Pinkerton is heard crying: Butterfly! Butterfly! Butterfly!
Cio-Cio-san, Madama Butterfly – Soprano (lyric, spinto)
A Japanese geisha
Suzuki – Mezzo-soprano (lyric)
B.F. Pinkerton – Tenor (spinto)
Lieutenant in the United States Navy
Sharpless – Baritone (dramatic)
United States consul at Nagasaki
Goro – Tenor (buffo)
Prince Yamadori – Baritone
An elderly French tutor employed by Madame Larina
The Bonze - Bass (lyric)
Kate Pinkerton – Mezzo-soprano (lyric)
Pinkerton's American wife
Yakuside - Bass
The Imperial Commissioner - Bass
The Official Registrar - Baritone
Cio-Cio-san's mother - Mezzo-soprano
The aunt - Soprano
The cousin - Soprano
Place of birth: Lucca, Italy
Place of death: Brussels, Belgium
Giacomo Puccini was an Italian Late Romantic opera composer. He came from a musical family with organists and composers in five generations. However, as a child Puccini was neither a keen student or particularly interested in music. That was not sparked until he attended a performance of Verdi’s Aida in Pisa 1876.
His operas are written in the realistic Verismo style, with La bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly being his most popular.
Although his operas were hugely praised, on a personal level Puccini was struggling. He was in a near fatal auto accident in his 40s, his love life was full of jealousy and drama and he later died from throat cancer a week after having received experimental radiation treatment in Brussels. At the time of Puccini’s death, he was the most commercially successful opera composer of all time.
“Inspiration is an awakening, a quickening of all man's faculties, and it is manifested in all high artistic achievements.“
He loved motor cars and speedboats. He was good friends with the inventor Thomas Edison.
Most prominent operas
Manon Lescaut 1893
La bohème 1896
Madama Butterfly 1904
La fanciulla del West 1910
La rondine 1917
Il tabarro 1918 (Il trittico)
Suor Angelica 1918 (Il trittico)
Gianni Schicchi 1918 (Il trittico)
Luigi Illica was an Italian librettist. Among his most famous works are La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Andrea Chénier. In photos he is always turned to the right because he lost his ear in a duel over a woman.
Giuseppe Giacosa was an Italian poet, playwright and librettist. He worked together with Illica on the librettos for La bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly. He also finalised the libretto for Manon Lescaut.
Madama Butterfly is based on the short story "Madame Butterfly" (1898) by John Luther Long, which in turn was based on stories told to Long by his sister Jennie Correll and on the semi-autobiographical 1887 French novel Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti. Long's version was dramatized by David Belasco as the one-act play Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan, which, after premiering in New York in 1900, moved to London, where Puccini saw it in the summer of that year.
3d1, 2+1, 2+1, 2 - 4, 3, 3, 0
timp, perc, harp, strings
Off-stage instrument: viola
Madama Butterfly was premiered at La Scala in Milan in 1904. Puccini finished the work late and therefore the rehearsals were cut short resulting in a bad first reception at the premiere.
Today Madama Butterfly is one of the top 10 mot performed operas worldwide.
Duet - Amore o grillo (Pinkerton, Sharpless)
Duet – Viene la sera, Bimba dagli occhi (Butterfly, Pinkerton)
Aria - Un bel dì vedremo (Butterfly)
Aria – Addio fiorito asil (Pinkerton)