The Story of Madame Butterfly
Puccini’s Madame Butterfly tells the story of a young naïve Japanese geisha who believes that her love for a handsome American naval officer is eternal. With its lush score and heartbreaking arias, it is a timeless tale that will stir your emotions.
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Sung in Italian with English Supertitles
Box Office: (714) 755-5799
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The Story of Madame Butterfly
On a hill overlooking Nagasaki harbor, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, a U.S. naval officer, rents a house for himself and the geisha he has contracted as a wife of convenience, the 15-year-old Cio-Cio-San—Madame Butterfly. In her sincere attachment to Pinkerton, she is striving to adopt American ways and has secretly converted to Christianity. Arrangements are made for a wedding ceremony at the house.
Madame Butterfly - 'In everlasting torment', by Byam Shaw, 1910
But her uncle, the Bonze, arrives without warning, interrupting the festivities and cursing Butterfly for dishonoring her family. The guests renounce her as they leave, but her distress is eclipsed by her ecstatic love duet with Pinkerton, and the act ends with Butterfly and Pinkerton happily in each other’s arms.
---Leontyne Price & Plácido Domingo; "Bimba, bimba, non piangere"; Madama Butterfly"; Giacomo Puccini . Video 16:10
Three years have passed. Pinkerton has returned to America shortly after his cavalier alliance with Butterfly. Now impoverished, Butterfly heads a household that includes her servant Suzuki and the young son that Pinkerton has never seen. But she is steadfast in her devotion to the man she knows only as her husband, and is awaiting his return—at which point she will change her son’s name from Trouble to Joy.
When Suzuki tries to prepare Butterfly for the possibility this might not happen, she angrily refuses to listen. Goro, the marriage broker, has new prospects for her, including a man of wealth, but she rejects these as well.
---Renata Tebaldi "Un bel di vedremo". Video 4:20
The American consul, Sharpless, arrives at the house with a letter from Pinkerton explaining that he has taken an American wife and is coming to Japan with her; he has asked Sharpless to explain these new domestic arrangements to Butterfly.
The agonized Sharpless tries to do so, but Butterfly’s excitement at the prospect of Pinkerton’s arrival prevents him from telling her the entire story. When he asks her what she would do if Pinkerton were not to return to her, Butterfly tells Sharpless about the son she bore Pinkerton, and asks Sharpless to give him this happy news.
From the vantage of Butterfly’s house, she and Suzuki can see Pinkerton’s ship arriving in Nagasaki harbor, and they excitedly prepare the house for his arrival. As Act II draws to a close, Butterfly settles herself for a nightlong vigil with the ship in view.
As Suzuki awakens the next morning, Butterfly finally falls asleep. Sharpless arrives at the house with a cheery newlywed couple: Captain B.F. Pinkerton and his American wife, Kate, who has agreed to raise her husband’s Japanese son in America.
When Pinkerton sees how Butterfly has decorated their house to welcome him, he finally begins to understand how his actions have affected Butterfly, and he cannot bear to face her. He leaves Sharpless, Suzuki, and Kate to tell her that they want to bring her son to America without her.
---Leontyne Price-Death of Butterfly. Rare private film. Video 2:16
Now fully aware of her situation and resolute in her course of action, Butterfly agrees to the adoption of her son on condition that Pinkerton himself come to see her. Remembering her father’s admonition that it is better to die with honor than to live with dishonor, she prays to the ancestral gods she had once abandoned for Pinkerton and says farewell to her son, placing a small American flag in his hand.
Then she takes the knife with which her father performed the hara-kiri ritual, kneels down and ends her own life in the same way. As she completes the suicide ritual, Pinkerton comes rushing in, desperately calling her name. He finds her body slumped on the floor of the house they briefly shared three years earlier.
Michael Clive is a cultural reporter living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. He is program annotator for Pacific Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic, and editor‑in‑chief for The Santa Fe Opera
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