Giuseppe Giacosa, Author libretto
Luigi Illica, Author libretto
Performed in Italian
Premiere of this production: 29 Nov 1953
The performance has 2 intermissions
Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Madama Butterfly is an opera in three acts (originally two acts) by Giacomo Puccini, with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. The libretto of the opera is based in part on the short story "Madame Butterfly" (1898) by John Luther Long, which was dramatized by David Belasco. Elements also appear to derive from the novel Madame Chrysanthème (1887) by Pierre Loti. According to one scholar, the story of the opera was based on events that actually occurred in Nagasaki in the early 1890s.
The original version of the opera, in two acts, had its premiere on February 17, 1904, at La Scala in Milan. It was very poorly received despite the presence of such notable singers as soprano Rosina Storchio, tenor Giovanni Zenatello and baritone Giuseppe De Luca in the lead roles. This was due in large part to the late completion and inadequate time for rehearsals. Puccini revised the opera, splitting the second act into two acts and making other changes. On May 28, 1904, this version was performed in Brescia and was a huge success.
Between 1915 and 1920, Japan's best-known opera singer Tamaki Miura won international fame for her performances as Cio-Cio San. Her statue, along with that of Puccini, can be found in the Glover Garden in Nagasaki, the city where the opera is set.
Madama Butterfly is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire for companies around the world and it ranks as Number 8 in the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide.
Puccini wrote five versions of the opera. The original version was in two acts and had its premiere on February 17, 1904, at La Scala in Milan. After a disastrous premiere, Puccini withdrew the opera and substantially rewrote it, this time in three acts. This second version was performed on May 28, 1904, in Brescia, where it was a great success. It was this second version that premiered in the United States in 1906, first in Washington, D.C., in October, and then in New York in November, by Henry Savage's New English Opera Company (so named because it performed in English-language translations).
In 1906, Puccini wrote a third version, which was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In 1907, Puccini made several changes in the orchestral and vocal scores, and this became the fourth version, which was performed in Paris.
Finally in 1907, Puccini made his final revisions to the opera in a fifth version, which has become known as the "standard version". Today, the standard version of the opera is the version most often performed around the world. However, the original 1904 version is occasionally performed as well.
Premieres of the standard version in major opera houses throughout the world include those in Buenos Aires on July 2, 1904, this being the first performance in Argentina. In London its first performance in Britain was given on July 10, 1905 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, while the first US performance was presented in English on October 15, 1906, in Washington, D.C., at the Columbia Theater. The first performance in New York took place on November 12 of the same year at the Garden Theater. Four years later, the first Australian performance was presented at the Theatre Royal in Sydney on March 26, 1910, starring Amy Castles.
In 1904, a U.S. Naval officer, Pinkerton, rents a house on a hill in Nagasaki, Japan for him and his soon-to-be wife, "Butterfly". Her real name is Ciocio-san, (cio-cio, pronounced "chocho": the Japanese word for "butterfly" is chōchō 蝶蝶). She is a 15-year-old Japanese girl whom he is marrying for convenience, since he intends to leave her once he finds a proper American wife, and since Japanese divorce laws are very lax. The wedding is to take place at the house, and Butterfly is so excited to marry an American that earlier, she secretly converted from Japanese religion to Christianity. After the wedding ceremony, her uninvited uncle, a bonze, who has found out about her conversion, comes to the house, curses her and orders all the guests to leave, which they do while renouncing her. Pinkerton and Butterfly sing a love duet and prepare to spend their first night together.
Three years later, Butterfly is still waiting for Pinkerton to return, as he had left shortly after their wedding. Her maid Suzuki keeps trying to convince her he is not coming back, but she will not listen to her. Goro, the marriage broker who arranged her marriage, keeps trying to marry her off again, but she won't listen to him either. The American Consul, Sharpless, comes to the house with a letter which he has received from Pinkerton in which he is asked to break some news to Butterfly that he is coming back to Japan, but he cannot bring himself to finish it, because Butterfly becomes very excited to hear that Pinkerton is coming back. Sharpless asks Butterfly what she would do if Pinkerton were not to return. She then reveals that she gave birth to Pinkerton's son after he had left and asks Sharpless to tell him.
From the hill house, Butterfly sees Pinkerton's ship arriving in the harbour. She and Suzuki prepare for his arrival, and then they wait. Suzuki and the child fall asleep, but Butterfly stays up all night waiting for him to arrive.
Suzuki wakes up in the morning and Butterfly finally falls asleep. Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive at the house, along with Pinkerton's new American wife, Kate. They have come because Kate has agreed to raise the child. But, as Pinkerton sees how Butterfly has decorated the house for his return, he realizes he has made a huge mistake. He admits that he is a coward and cannot face her, leaving Suzuki, Sharpless and Kate to break the news to Butterfly. Agreeing to give up her child if Pinkerton comes himself to see her, she then prays to statues of her ancestral gods, says goodbye to her son, and blindfolds him. She places a small American flag into his hands and goes behind a screen, cutting her throat with her father's hara-kiri knife. Pinkerton rushes in. He is too late.
1 Teatralnaya ploschad (1 Theatre Square), Moscow, Russia
Bol'shaya Dmitrovka Street, 4/2, Moscow, Russia