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Madame Butterfly Premieres

Madame Butterfly Premieres



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On February 17, 1904, Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly premieres at the La Scala theatre in Milan, Italy.

The young Puccini decided to dedicate his life to opera after seeing a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida in 1876. In his later life, he would write some of the best-loved operas of all time: La Boheme (1896), Tosca (1900), Madame Butterfly (1904) and Turandot (left unfinished when he died in 1924). Not one of these, however, was an immediate success when it opened. La Boheme, the now-classic story of a group of poor artists living in a Paris garret, earned mixed reviews, while Tosca was downright panned by critics.

While supervising a production of Tosca in London, Puccini saw the play Madame Butterfly, written by David Belasco and based on a story by John Luther Long. Taken with the strong female character at its center, he began working on an operatic version of the play, with an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Written over the course of two years—including an eight-month break when Puccini was badly injured in a car accident—the opera made its debut in Milan in February 1904.

Set in Nagasaki, Japan, Madame Butterfly told the story of an American sailor, B.F. Pinkerton, who marries and abandons a young Japanese geisha, Cio-Cio-San, or Madame Butterfly. In addition to the rich, colorful orchestration and powerful arias that Puccini was known for, the opera reflected his common theme of living and dying for love. This theme often played out in the lives of his heroines—women like Cio-Cio-San, who live for the sake of their lovers and are eventually destroyed by the pain inflicted by that love.

Perhaps because of the opera’s foreign setting or perhaps because it was too similar to Puccini’s earlier works, the audience at the premiere reacted badly to Madame Butterfly, hissing and yelling at the stage. Puccini withdrew it after one performance. He worked quickly to revise the work, splitting the 90-minute-long second act into two parts and changing other minor aspects. Four months later, the revamped Madame Butterfly went onstage at the Teatro Grande in Brescia. This time, the public greeted the opera with tumultuous applause and repeated encores, and Puccini was called before the curtain 10 times. Madame Butterfly went on to huge international success, moving to New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1907.


An American naval officer, Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, arrives in Japan to take up his duties on a ship docked in Nagasaki. On the suggestion of his friend Sayre, he takes a Japanese wife and house for the duration of his stay there. His young bride, Cho-Cho-San, is a geisha whose family was strongly in favour of the marriage until Pinkerton forbade them from visiting. When they learned that they would not be allowed to visit they disowned Cho-Cho-San. Pinkerton's ship eventually sets sail from Japan. In his absence and unbeknown to him, she gives birth to their child, a son whom she names Trouble. As time goes by, Cho-Cho-San is still convinced that Pinkerton will return to her some day, but her maid, Suzuki, becomes increasingly skeptical. Then Goro, a marriage broker, arrives and proposes that she divorce Pinkerton, telling her that even if he does come back, he will leave her and take the child with him. He proposes a Japanese husband to look after her—Yamadori, a prince who had lived a long time in America. Although she has no intention of going through with Goro's plan, she tells him to arrange a meeting with Yamadori.

At the meeting Yamadori tells Cho-Cho-San that Pinkerton only thought of the marriage as temporary as was common in America and suggests that he would eventually divorce her and the baby could well end up in an orphanage. Instead, his marriage proposal offered her the possibility of reconciling with her family and keeping her baby. Angry and upset at what she hears, she has Suzuki turn Yamadori and the marriage broker out of the house. She then visits the American consul in Nagasaki, Mr. Sharpless, in an attempt to allay her fears and ask his help in getting Pinkerton to return. As her story unfolds, Sharpless feels increasing contempt for Pinkerton. She asks him to write Pinkerton and tell him that she is marrying Yamadori and will take their son with her if he does not return. However, she says that she has no intention of really doing this and only wants to play a "little joke" on him. Sharpless gently tells her that he could not take part in such a deception. He encourages her to accept Yamadori's offer and reconcile with her family.

Weeks pass with Cho-Cho-San anxiously scanning the horizon for the arrival of Pinkerton's ship. Finally, she sees it coming into the harbour and is overcome with emotion. She and Suzuki prepare the house with flowers to welcome him. Cho-Cho-San dresses in her finest kimono. Then she, Suzuki and the baby hide behind a shoji screen intending to surprise him when he arrives. They wait all night, but Pinkerton never comes. A week later, they see a passenger steamer in the harbour. On the deck is Pinkerton with a young blonde woman. Again she and Suzuki wait all night for him in vain. The next morning his warship is gone from the harbour. Distraught, she visits Sharpless to ask if he had written Pinkerton and why he has left without seeing her. To spare her feelings, Sharpless tells her that he had indeed written to Pinkerton who was on his way to see her but had many duties to perform and then his ship was suddenly ordered to China. Cho-Cho-San is sad but relieved. Then the blonde woman from the steamship enters the office, identifies herself as Pinkerton's wife and asks the Consul to send the following telegram to her husband:

"Just saw the baby and his nurse. Can't we have him at once? He is lovely. Shall see the mother about it tomorrow. Was not at home when I was there today. Expect to join you Wednesday week per Kioto Maru. May I bring him along? Adelaide."

In despair Cho-Cho-San rushes home. She bids farewell to Suzuki and the baby and shuts herself in her room to commit suicide with her father's sword. After the first thrust of the sword, she hesitates. Although she is bleeding the wound is not fatal. As she raises the sword again, Suzuki silently enters the room with the baby and pinches him to make him cry. Cho-Cho-San lets the sword drop to the floor. As the baby crawls onto Cho-Cho-San's lap, Suzuki dresses her wound. The story ends with the words: "When Mrs. Pinkerton called next day at the little house on Higashi Hill it was quite empty."


Based on a True Story?

In the playwright notes at the beginning of the published edition of M. Butterfly, it explains that the story was initially inspired by real events: a French diplomat named Bernard Bouriscot fell in love with an opera singer "whom he believed for twenty years to be a woman" (quoted in Hwang). Both men were convicted of espionage. In Hwang's afterward, he explains that the news article sparked an idea for a story, and from that point the playwright stopped doing research on the actual events, wanting to create his own answers to the questions many had about the diplomat and his lover.

In addition to its non-fictional roots, the play is also a clever deconstruction of the Puccini opera, Madama Butterfly.


Performance History

Madama butterfly first premiered in one of Italy’s most known opera houses, La scala. The performance flopped despite the appearance of some of the most celebrated casts such as soprano Rosina Storchio (Jenkins, 2010, p. 10).

A lot of bad decisions were made during the opera’s rehearsals as can be noted from the high level of secrecy upheld by the opera’s producers who in turn recommended that the casts’ scripts should not leave the theatre (Jenkins, 2010, p. 13). The move was also motivated by the fact that the producers did not want careless singers to lose their musical scripts (Jenkins, 2010, p. 13).

This greatly contributed to the poor mastering of the music by the players. Moreover, the printed scripts were to be mastered by the cast, a page at a time, since printing was done sequentially and in a slow manner (Jenkins, 2010, p. 13). The press was also forbidden from attending the rehearsals and therefore most media agents and critics were irritated before the premiere, prompting them to search for small faults with the opera performance (Jenkins, 2010, p. 13).

Madama Butterfly also premiered in 1904 in Buernos Aries, Argentina while in London, it premiered in 1905 at the Royal Opera house, Covent Garden (Jenkins, 2010, p. 14). In the United States, the opera first premiered in Washington D.C at the Columbia theatre in 1906 and in New York, the first performance took place in November 12 th of the same year at Garden theatre and lastly, in Australia, the first performance was done at the Royal Theatre in 1906 (Jenkins, 2010, p. 16).


Madama Butterfly

Starts at: 20.00 (Sundays: 18.30) |

The production is made possible by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) [ www.SNF.org ] to enhance the Greek National Opera’s artistic outreach

In the context of the new preventive measures against the spread of the coronavirus announced by the Government, including the suspension of the operation of theatres for one month starting from 3 November 2020, the Greek National Opera announces:
The suspension of the two last performances of Madama Butterfly that were scheduled for 8 and 15 November.
All ticket holders of the suspended performances will be contacted by the Greek National Opera’s box office to be offered a refund or the possibility to exchange their tickets for another performance date or for another production. GNO Box Office call center: 2130885700 (daily 09.00-21.00).

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the opera will be presented in Ettore Panizza’s instrumentation for reduced orchestra (ed. Ricordi)

Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is a milestone work for the Greek National Opera, as it is the first opera ever staged by it as a newly-founded organization, on 25 October 1940, three days prior to the declaration of the Greco-Italian war. That historic premiere, held on the National Theatre’s main stage, was attended by the composer’s son, Antonio Puccini, and the Italian Ambassador in Athens Emanuele Grazzi, who, a few hours later, would deliver to the Greek government the Italian ultimatum threatening war.
This year, which marks the 80th anniversary of the Greek National Opera, Butterfly returns to the GNO’s new home, at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, not only to celebrate the anniversary, but also to signal the GNO’s return to action after the pandemic, and to show that art and culture not only survive in the most adverse conditions, but also constitute the driving force for man and society.
Greek National Opera’s Artistic Director Giorgos Koumendakis notes: “We chose this great work, because this October marks the 80th anniversary of Butterfly’s historic premiere at the GNO on 25 October 1940, three days prior to the start of the Greco-Italian war. The symbolism is obvious: the GNO has always been present and courageous in very difficult times and has managed to stand upright even in absolutely challenging circumstances, both back then and today.”

Famous for its wonderful arias, strikingly melodic music and dramatic theatricality, Madama Butterfly offers timeless emotion and triggers intense feelings. Puccini does not hesitate to describe it as his favorite opera, and through his later modifications he makes his heroine’s alabaster figure a symbol of inexhaustible patience and eternal, constant love.

The opera tells the story of the fatal love affair of fifteen-year-old geisha Cio-Cio-San with Pinkerton, a lieutenant in the United States Navy. After three years of absence the lieutenant returns to Japan with his American wife, when he hears that he has a son by Butterfly. She agrees to give the child away only to Pinkerton himself and then she commits suicide.

The direction, sets and costumes of the production, which premiered in 2013 at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and is now revived in a new version tailored to the stage of the Stavros Niarchos Hall, bear the stamp of famous Argentinian director Huge de Ana. It is an impressive production with traditional Japanese costumes, while the sets and video projections impressively illustrate the country of the rising sun on the one hand and the heroine’s psyche on the other. Video projections are designed by Sergio Metalli and lighting by Valerio Alfieri.

The cast includes great Greek and foreign protagonists. The title role is performed by three outstanding sopranos with an international career, Ermonela Jaho, Cellia Costea and Kristīne Opolais.

Ermonela Jaho was born in Albania and lives in New York. She has been described by the Economist as “the world’s most acclaimed soprano“. She is famous for her unique interpretations and her identification with the heroines she performs. She appears at the world’s greatest opera houses, from America and Australia to Europe and Asia, and she has collaborated with celebrated soloists, directors and conductors. Specifically for her interpretation of Madama Butterfly the reviews have been raving, with the most praising among them being Independent’s about Jaho’s interpretation at Covent Garden: “Jaho is the best Madama Butterfly that London has seen in years”.

Greek National Opera’s distinguished soprano Cellia Costea has collaborated with the world’s most prestigious theatres such as the Vienna State Opera, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden, London), as well as theatres in Stuttgart, Bergen, Oslo, Marseille, Liège, Barcelona, Milan, Catania, Palermo, Modena, Piacenza, Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore and Athens in roles such as Marguerite (Faust), Nedda (Pagliacci), Micaëla (Carmen), Leonora (Il trovatore), Desdemona (Otello), Elisabetta (Don Carlos), Liù (Turandot), Mimì (La bohème), Tosca, Elena (I vespri siciliani).

Latvian soprano Kristīne Opolais first appeared in Greece in the early stages of her career in 2008 in Greek National Opera’s Tosca, leaving excellent impressions. Right after that, her career was launched and very soon she emerged as one of the world’s most sought-after sopranos, as she impressively combines a unique stage presence with the dramatic effect and metal in her voice. Her Met debut in 2014 gave her global recognition since just in two days she performed with huge success both Butterfly and Mimì in La bohème. In fact, that same year, after her appearances at the Royal Opera House, London, Telegraph described her as the “the leading Puccini Soprano of today”.

The cast is completed by tenors Gianluca Terranova and Dimitris Paksoglou, baritones Dionysios Sourbis and Nikos Kotenidis, mezzo-soprano Chryssanthi Spitadi, and a multitude of Greek soloists.

Madama Butterfly at a glance
THE COMPOSER
Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca, Tuscany, on 22 December 1858. The fifth of seven children, he was born to a family that had supplied his native city with musicians –church organists, conductors and composers, mainly of sacred music– for the previous four generations. He remains to this day one of the most renowned composers of Italian opera, as his works are regularly performed throughout the world. His musical style was already clearly developed by his third opera, Manon Lescaut (1893), while his next three compositions, La bohème (1896), Tosca (1900) and Madama Butterfly (1904), firmly established Puccini as Verdi’s heir. The beautiful melodies and intense theatricality that define his operas successfully met the demands of their time. His last opera, Turandot (1926), remained incomplete due to his death in 1924.

THE OPERA
A tragedia giapponese to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, Madama Butterfly is based on the one-act play Madame Butterfly (1900) by American playwright David Belasco, itself based on an 1898 short story by another American writer, John Luther Long. This, in turn, was partly based on Pierre Loti’s French novel Madame Chrysanthème (1887). The opera recounts the tragic love of Cio-Cio-San, a fifteen-year-old geisha, for Pinkerton, an American naval officer. After a three-year absence the officer returns to Japan with his American wife, having learned that he has a son by Butterfly. She agrees to give Pinkerton the child, but commits suicide shortly afterwards.

PREMIERES
Madama Butterfly’s first, two-act version received its premiere at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on 17 February 1904. A revised, three-act version was performed on 28 May 1904 at the Teatro Grande, Brescia. The version in which the opera is usually presented nowadays is based on the Opéra Comique version, which was staged in Paris on 28 December 1906.

ACT I
Nagasaki, early 20th century. Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, a lieutenant in the United States Navy, is arranging with Goro, a Japanese marriage broker, the last details of his upcoming marriage with Cio-Cio-San, a fifteen-year-old geisha also known as Butterfly. Pinkerton informs Sharpless, the United States consul, that in Japan a husband can break up his marriage anytime. In vain Sharpless tries to warn him that the adolescent girl is bound to take the marriage seriously.
The bride arrives with her friends and relatives. She shows Pinkerton her few possessions, including the narrow sheath that contains the dagger with which her father killed himself. Right after the ceremony the Bonze, Butterfly’s uncle, arrives and denounces her for having forsworn her faith, urging the rest of her relatives to do the same. Cio-Cio-San is left alone with Pinkerton, who tries to comfort her. Suzuki, her maid, helps her dress for her wedding night and Butterfly joins Pinkerton in the garden.

ACT II
Three years later, in the same residence, Cio-Cio-San is alone with Suzuki. Even though Pinkerton left for his home country shortly after the wedding and never returned, Cio-Cio-San remains faithful to him and dreams of the day that she will see him once again. Sharpless appears: he wants to prepare her for Pinkerton’s return with his American wife. Cio-Cio-San refuses to listen and shows Sharpless her son by Pinkerton. She decorates the house for his arrival and settles to a night of waiting next to Suzuki and the child.
As morning breaks, Cio-Cio-San, who stayed up all night, takes her son to another room and sings him to sleep. Pinkerton and Sharpless appear and ask Suzuki to speak to the former’s American wife. Pinkerton recalls the past. Filled with remorse, he chooses not to face Cio-Cio-San and leaves. Butterfly enters, looking for her husband. Much to her dismay she sees the strange woman in the garden and is informed by Sharpless and Suzuki that Pinkerton will never return to her. She seems to accept the situation and even agrees to give Pinkerton their son, if he comes to take him himself. She then asks to be left alone and decides to end her life. In an effort to stop her, Suzuki sends in her son. Butterfly bids him farewell, ties his eyes and commits suicide just as Pinkerton arrives.

Director, sets, costumes
Hugo de Ana

Video projection designer
Sergio Metalli - Ideogamma SRL

Lighting designer
Valerio Alfieri

Chorus master
Agathangelos Georgakatos

Cio-Cio-San
Ermonela Jaho (14, 16, 20, 25/10/2020)
Cellia Costea (15/11/2020)
Kristīne Opolais (18, 23, 30/10 & 1, 8/11/2020)

Suzuki
Chrysanthi Spitadi (14, 16, 18, 20, 23, 25, 30/10 & 1, 8, 15/11/2020)

Kate Pinkerton
Violetta Lousta (16, 18, 20, 23, 25/10/2020)
Diamanti Kritsotaki (14, 30/10 & 1, 8, 15/11/2020)

B. F. Pinkerton
Gianluca Terranova (16, 20, 23, 25/10/2020)
Dimitris Paksoglou (14, 18, 30/10 & 1, 8,15/11/2020)

Sharpless
Dionysios Sourbis (16, 20, 23, 25/10/2020)
Nikos Kοtenidis (14, 18, 30/10 & 1, 8, 15/11/2020)

Goro
Nicholas Stefanou (16, 20, 23, 25/10/2020)
Yannis Kalyvas (14, 18, 30/10 & 1, 8, 15/11/2020)

Bonze
Yanni Yannissis (16, 20, 23, 25/10 & 1/11/2020)
Dimitris Kassioumis (14, 18, 30/10 & 8, 15/11/2020)

Imperial commissioner
Dionisos Tsantinis (16, 20, 25/10 & 1, 15/11/2020)
Georgios Papadimitriou (14, 18, 23, 30/10 & 8/11/2020)

Official registrar
Theodoros Aivaliotis (16, 20, 25/10 & 1, 15/11/2020)
Theodoros Moraitis (14, 18, 23, 30/10 & 8/11/2020)

Cio-Cio-San’s mother
Amalia Avloniti (16, 20, 25/10 & 1, 15/11/2020)
Zoe Apiranthitou (14, 18, 23, 30/10 & 8/11/2020)

Aunt
Vaia Kofou (16, 20, 25/10 & 1, 15/11/2020)
Elizaveta Klonovskaya (14, 18, 23, 30/10 & 8/11/2020)

Cousin
Fotini Hadjidaki (16, 20, 25/10 & 1, 15/11/2020)
Thei Stavrou (14, 18, 23, 30/10 & 8/11/2020)

With the Orchestra, Chorus and Soloists of the GNO

Ticket prices: €15, €20, €30, €35, €42, €50, €55, €70
Students, children: €12
Limited visibility seats: €10

In line with the restrictive measures for the protection of public health against the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) announced by the Greek Government, the Greek National Opera’s Stavros Niarchos Hall will operate at 30% maximum capacity, namely, with 420 seats out of a total of 1,400. Moreover, it is noted that according to the instructions of the Greek State, tickets will only be purchased online or by telephone, the use of mask will be obligatory when entering and exiting the building and throughout the performances, on either side of each seat (single or double) there will be at least two empty seats left, overcrowding shall be avoided, and the prescribed physical distance between viewers and between the audience and the stage / orchestra shall be maintained, while special protocols are in place for the cleaning, disinfection, air-conditioning and ventilation system of all areas of the GNO at the SNFCC.

Greek National Opera - Stavros Niarchos Hall
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

Starts at: 20.00 (Sundays: 18.30) |

ACT I
Nagasaki, early 20th century. Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, a lieutenant in the United States Navy, is arranging with Goro, a Japanese marriage broker, the last details of his upcoming marriage with Cio-Cio-San, a fifteen-year-old geisha also known as Butterfly. Pinkerton informs Sharpless, the United States consul, that in Japan a husband can break up his marriage anytime. In vain Sharpless tries to warn him that the adolescent girl is bound to take the marriage seriously.
The bride arrives with her friends and relatives. She shows Pinkerton her few possessions, including the narrow sheath that contains the dagger with which her father killed himself. Right after the ceremony the Bonze, Butterfly’s uncle, arrives and denounces her for having forsworn her faith, urging the rest of her relatives to do the same. Cio-Cio-San is left alone with Pinkerton, who tries to comfort her. Suzuki, her maid, helps her dress for her wedding night and Butterfly joins Pinkerton in the garden.

ACT II
Three years later, in the same residence, Cio-Cio-San is alone with Suzuki. Even though Pinkerton left for his home country shortly after the wedding and never returned, Cio-Cio-San remains faithful to him and dreams of the day that she will see him once again. Sharpless appears: he wants to prepare her for Pinkerton’s return with his American wife. Cio-Cio-San refuses to listen and shows Sharpless her son by Pinkerton. She decorates the house for his arrival and settles to a night of waiting next to Suzuki and the child.
As morning breaks, Cio-Cio-San, who stayed up all night, takes her son to another room and sings him to sleep. Pinkerton and Sharpless appear and ask Suzuki to speak to the former’s American wife. Pinkerton recalls the past. Filled with remorse, he chooses not to face Cio-Cio-San and leaves. Butterfly enters, looking for her husband. Much to her dismay she sees the strange woman in the garden and is informed by Sharpless and Suzuki that Pinkerton will never return to her. She seems to accept the situation and even agrees to give Pinkerton their son, if he comes to take him himself. She then asks to be left alone and decides to end her life. In an effort to stop her, Suzuki sends in her son. Butterfly bids him farewell, ties his eyes and commits suicide just as Pinkerton arrives.


The Making of Madame Butterfly – Part Three. The Libretto.

NOTE: The Writer assumes the Reader has read the other “chapters” if Reader hasn’t, Writer respectfully requests Reader so to do, if only to be clear about the non-operatic people, and their works mentioned below. Apart from that, they’re well-written, informative, and – oops: Writer shouldn’t brag!

With an opera successfully launched in Italy and in demand elsewhere, Giacomo Puccini liked to “supervise” productions in major cities, all the while sniffing around for his next subject. Thus he was in London in the summer of 1900 for the Covent Garden première of his latest opera, Tosca. On a free evening during his six-week stay, he went to the Duke of York’s Theatre, where a pair of one-act plays was playing: Jerome K. Jerome’s Miss Hobbs, and David Belasco’s Madame Butterfly. The transfer from Broadway to London of David Belasco’s stage-adaptation of John Luther Long’s story profoundly affected the Italian composer, especially the so-called “Vigil Scene,” where Butterfly, Suzuki and Trouble wait for Pinkerton’s return to his house: the transition from evening, to night, to dawn, and to full morning, was a demonstration of Belasco’s genius in taking advantage of the relatively-new-fangled thing known as “electric light.”

Belasco, years later, said that Puccini came to his dressing-room after the performance, asking for the performance rights. The author/director agreed at once. Question 1: Why would the director/author have his own dressing-room? Question 2: Why would an American director/author hang around in London after his play was successfully launched? Methinks Belasco, with Madama Butterfly hugely successful in every Opera House, was trying to lay claim to a small ownership of Puccini’s opera.

The composer initially liked the play because it presented a conflict between the values and the cultures of America and Japan he was impressed by the visual effect of the “Vigil Scene” and he loved Butterfly’s suicide at the end. He did write to a friend, though, that the play was “very beautiful but not for Italy.” Despite Belasco’s memories, Puccini was not averse, on his journey home, to wondering in Paris if the rights to Émile Zola’s latest, sensational novel, La faute de l’Abbé Mouret, were available: they had been promised to Jules Massenet, the composer of Manon and Werther. Disappointed, he noted he had returned from London “an unemployed opera composer,” but he did ask Ricordi to investigate the possibility of obtaining the rights to Madame Butterfly. And there were discussions with Illica about a libretto based on the doomed Marie Antoinette a possible adaptation of Victor Hugo’s vast novel Les Misérables, or maybe Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac. Puccini became more and more attracted to the Belasco one-acter: “I think that instead of one act I could make two quite long ones: the first in North America, the second in Japan…”

Puccini’s first operatic success, Manon Lescaut, in 1893, involved the work of five librettists, not including the composer’s publisher Ricordi and the composer himself. Subsequently, Puccini slimmed down to just two: Luigi Illica, who dramatized the source material, and Giuseppe Giacoso, who turned Illica’s text into singable poetry.

In March, 1901, Puccini sent Illica an Italian translation (admitting it was not very good) of John Luther Long’s story Madame Butterfly to give him an idea of his next projected opera, but noted that the play, especially the ending, was much more effective. In May, Illica sent along his detailed scenario of Act One, based as much on Loti’s Madame Chrysanthème as on Long’s story he admitted it was over-written, and knew that cuts would be made as work progressed.

The greatest difference between this first draft and the opera we know today is in the relationship between the American sailor Pinkerton and the American Consul Sharpless. Our Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton was, in that draft, called Sir Francis Blummy Pinkerton! Long’s story mentions “Mr. B. F. Pikkerton.” Maybe Illica thought “Sir” (as in “Yes, sir”) was a polite form of “Mr” instead of the result of a British monarch conferring a knighthood (as in SIR Ian McKellan) “Francis” is an acceptable first name, but where did “Blummy” come from? Illica’s vague memory of the English exclamation “Blimey!”?

The draft-Sharpless seems younger than the Consul we now know he approves of Pinkerton’s sexual predatoriness, and is amused by the “comedy” of the younger man’s marriage in the “Japanese” manner Pinkerton considers it simply a business arrangement: he could never take a Japanese “bride” seriously as a woman or a wife. Together they mock the “smallness” the Japanese admire, and both think absurd the Japanese tradition of naming people after flowers or insects. In his aria Pinkerton uses many English words in describing how the “Yankee” conquers the world the second verse, with its description of Butterfly, is nothing more than a list of the oriental stereotypes Loti gives us.
Having written the libretto for Mascagni’s 1898 opera Iris – a lurid (and not very successful) piece set in Japan – Illica must have felt himself eminently qualified, armed with translations of Long’s story and Loti’s novel, to provide Puccini with a libretto for Madama Butterfly. In April, 1901, he received news that Ricordi had been given the rights to Belasco’s play. Why pay Belasco, wondered Illica? Everything he needed for the libretto was in Long’s story! Ricordi, even with the rights to the play, was not convinced of the viability of the piece and his doubts were not assuaged by a letter from Illica which questioned the role of Pinkerton: 1) he’s unsympathetic in Act 1 and, 2) he doesn’t reappear until the end of the opera, where he is even more unsympathetic. A new translation of Long’s story, commissioned by Puccini from an anonymous American woman, didn’t really change anything. In June, Puccini found an Italian version of Belasco’s script which he sent to Ricordi, who was finally convinced that it could work.

Illica initally considered a libretto in 2 acts: the first a Prologue, with the second divided into three scenes: Butterfly’s house the Consulate Butterfly’s house. Somewhere along the way that was altered to three acts: Butterfly’s House (Long’s story with lots of “local color” taken from Loti’s novel) The Consulate (Long’s story) Butterfly’s House (Belasco’s stage adaptation of Long). Illica, Giacoso and Ricordi worked on the libretto: Illica wrote the “script,” Giacoso turned that into poetry, with Ricordi acting as a kind of referee between the two. In mid-June 1902, a copy of the revised text-so-far was sent to the composer.

Silence from Puccini. Until November. When he wrote to Giacoso asking to meet to discuss changes followed by letters to Ricordi, Illica and Giacoso to say that the scene in the American Consulate had to go. He warned Ricordi that the scene was a terrible mistake, interrupting the inevitable progression of the tragedy, and would surely result in a fiasco. He flattered Illica, writing that Act One (the marriage of Pinkerton and Butterfly) must be his, but that Act Two must be Belasco’s, with its total concentration on the tragic plight of the heroine. The East (Japan)-West (America) culture-clash Puccini originally considered was greatly reduced. Illica agreed with Puccini’s assessment of the situation. Ricordi feared that the opera would now be too short for a full evening and would have to be performed in tandem with some other shortish piece it took some persuasion from both Illica and Puccini to convince Ricordi the cut was dramatically necessary.
Giacoso was incensed. He agreed that the scene was not in Belasco’s play, but their first act wasn’t either losing this scene would remove “many exquisite poetic details.” Why not, he suggested, rewrite the entire libretto to conform totally to the stage adaptation? The first act was already composed, so that was not a valid option.

Madame Butterfly – The Minnesota Opera

Eventually he calmed down and work began on the revisions demanded by the scene’s elimination. For the scene at the Consulate contained much that was vital to the drama. As the curtain rises, Sharpless is working at his desk. Pinkerton enters almost immediately we find out that he has been married for a year to an American who is with him in Nagasaki, and that he has told his wife about his “marriage” to Butterfly. They have no children, and she suggested they take his child back to America with them. Sharpless thinks it’s a good idea, but is horrified that Kate has already gone to Butterfly’s house. He berates Pinkerton for his callous treatment of Butterfly, who has remained utterly faithful to him for the past three years. In an aria Pinkerton recalls happy memories of his time spent with Butterfly, and his deep remorse for his neglect of her he gives the Consul money to pass on to Butterfly, and leaves. Sharpless is disgusted. Butterfly now appears with the great news that Pinkerton’s ship arrived yesterday she waited all night for him to come home. Has Sharpless seen him, spoken to him, why didn’t he come to the house? Does he know about the baby? Yes, Sharpless told him in fact, he wants to take the baby with him. Butterfly is delighted at the thought of moving to America and wonders if Suzuki might come too. Before Sharpless can reply, Kate Pinkerton enters. Butterfly stands thunderstruck, staring at Kate, while the Consul signs to Kate to be silent, and quietly tells Butterfly to leave. She refuses. Kate finally notices her and approaches “la bella bambina!” Quickly she realizes who the “bambina” is. Patronizingly Kate tells her that no-one is accusing her, or blaming her: “You are a beautiful toy”. She tells Butterfly that the child will be loved and cared for she knows it’s very sad, but it’s for the child’s good. Sharpless encourages Kate to leave – “Will she give us the child?” “In about two hours, climb the hill.” Kate leaves. Butterfly returns Pinkerton’s money, telling the consul she has no use for it. “Will I see you again?” “Perhaps. In about two hours climb the hill.” The curtain falls rapidly.

We know most of this because it was absorbed, with some minor changes, into what became the Second Part of Act Two. The scene in the Consulate does enhance the characters of both Pinkerton and Sharpless, making their roles more attractive to star tenors and baritones. But…?? Puccini was correct in his assessment – the scene does slacken the tension when it should be building towards Butterfly’s suicide.

On February 25, 1903, Puccini was seriously injured when his car plunged down a fifteen-foot embankment he was found, almost asphyxiated, under the vehicle, with a compound fracture of his right leg. Recovery was slow. It wasn’t until early June that he resumed work on the score. The orchestration was finished on the evening of December 27, 1903. The first performance was scheduled for mid-February 1904.

What did the audience in La Scala read in the libretto published for that February evening? (They certainly didn’t hear much, thanks to the various whistles, cat-calls, and aspersive comments from the gallery, answered by shouts for silence!)

The first scene between Goro and Pinkerton is much as you’ll hear it today, except for Pinkerton’s reaction to Goro’s introduction, using their Japanese names, of the servants: “Stupid, silly names – I’ll call them mugs – Mug One, Mug Two, Mug Three.” Sharpless arrives, and their conversation on that February night, with Pinkerton’s two solos, remains unchanged. Also unchanged is Butterfly’s entrance with her girl-friends. Sharpless, ever the diplomat, engages Butterfly in harmless questions about her family. Harmless until he asks about her father: dead, but it’s obviously a sensitive topic. To relieve the embarrassment, Butterfly tells Pinkerton about her other relatives. One uncle is a Bonze (a traditional Japanese priest) – “incredibly wise a fountain of eloquence,” comment Goro and the girls the other uncle is a bit light-headed – “a drunk,” say the girls.

Sharpless wonders how old Butterfly is. He considers fifteen to be a time for playing with dolls, but Pinkerton thinks it’s the perfect age for marriage. He summons his three “Mugs” and tells them to pass around the candied spiders and flies the nests baked in pastry and the worst, sick-making liquor in Japan – he uses the adjective Nipponeria, which sounds pejorative.

Now arrive the High Commissioner and the Registrar Butterfly’s relations, including her Mother , Uncle Yakusidé (the drunk), an aunt and a first cousin with her son. There follows an ensemble where some of the relatives consider Pinkerton to be beneath them while others think him handsome and wealthy Uncle Y. is looking for wine Goro tries to quiet everyone down Pinkerton sings of her beauty and how she excites him Sharpless congratulates him on finding such a treasure, but warns him that she believes in him and in this wedding.
Goro introduces the officials to Pinkerton, and each bows to the other the relatives join the introductions with their own bowing, until Pinkerton complains that his back has done enough bowing for one day. Butterfly introduces her Mother, then her Cousin and her son and finally Uncle Yakusidé. The relatives crowd around the tables that have been laden with food the stage direction reads: “Butterfly seats her mother and cousin close to her, trying to restrain their greediness.” Sharpless, as American Consul, formally introduces “Sir Francis Blummy Pinkerton” to the Japanese officials who reply in their native language.

Now follows Pinkerton’s conversation with Butterfly about the things she has brought with her. The Commissioner begins his wedding announcement, but is interrupted when the relatives catch Yakusidé and the child raiding the remains of the food. The official documents signed, the Japanese officials leave with Sharpless.

Pinkerton is left with his new relations. He pours whiskey for the uncle, then gives him the bottle Butterfly stops him from offering a drink to her mother he invites the party to eat and drink, despite Goro’s warning not to encourage Yakusidé and he fills up the cousin’s child’s sleeves with the food that’s lying around. Then he calls for a song from his uncle who obliges with what reads like a traditional song until he is interrupted a): by noticing the child has made off with his bottle of whiskey, and b): by the arrival of the Bonze. Who denounces Cio-Cio-San and encourages the family to renounce her. They do, and leave her alone with Pinkerton. And the great love-duet begins. Which contains a lovely moment where Butterfly tells Pinkerton that initially she couldn’t consider marriage with an American: “…a barbarian, a stinging insect!” But that was before she saw him.

Act 2 is set inside Butterfly’s house where Suzuki is praying to her traditional gods, pleading that Butterfly might find some peace of mind. Butterfly’s great aria of optimism: Un bel dì – the best-known part of the score, and one of the arias most loved by sopranos! Goro and the Consul arrive then Yamadori. Finally Sharpless is able to read Pinkerton’s letter to her. When asked what she would do if Pinkerton should not return, she sings of returning to her former life as a geisha, or that perhaps she and her son might go begging in the streets where she and her blue-eyed son would be noticed by the Emperor and taken under his protection. Sharpless leaves. A short scene with Goro. Then the cannon-shot from the harbor indicating the arrival of a ship. It is Pinkerton’s. Butterfly gives the child an American flag and renames him Gioia – “Joy” – as she had previously told the Consul she would. As Suzuki prepares Butterfly for the return of her husband, Butterfly wonders what her relatives will now say Yamadori too.

Now follows the “Vigil” scene that had so impressed Puccini when he saw the London production of Belasco’s play. Stage lighting depicts the transition from evening to night, to dawn, to full day. Puccini’s orchestral intermezzo portrayed the passage of time, but also hinted at Butterfly’s train of thought. At morning, Butterfly sings a lullaby to her child and takes him upstairs to bed.

A knock on the door announces the arrival of Pinkerton, his wife and Sharpless. The Consul persuades Suzuki to speak with Mrs. Pinkerton who has remained in the garden. Pinkerton recognizes that the house hasn’t changed. The librettists spliced in a few lines of conversation from the discarded Consulate scene to allow him to express remorse in tears he gives Sharpless money to give to Butterfly, asks him to talk to her about the child, since he doesn’t dare to, and leaves. Suzuki and Kate enter from the garden. Butterfly comes down from the upstairs room slowly the truth dawns on her. Again, lines from the Consulate scene are spliced in: Kate asks Butterfly to allow her to help the child. Butterfly tells her she will give the child to Pinkerton, but that he must come to the house to collect him. Suzuki shows Kate out of the house and goes upstairs. Sharpless offers her the money Pinkerton left, but Butterfly refuses it their conversation is taken, with minor alterations, from the abandoned scene in the American Consulate.
Suzuki rushes in to help the almost-fainting Butterfly. She wonders where the child is and tells Suzuki to go and play with him. Suzuki refuses. Butterfly reminds her that only yesterday she had said that a good sleep would restore her beauty “Leave me alone and your Butterfly will sleep.” She sings a verse of a folk-song: “Life and love entered with him through closed gates he went, and nothing was left to us but death.” Again Suzuki refuses to leave. This time Butterfly commands her to go. Alone she takes the sword and reads the inscription on it. Suzuki pushes the child into the room. Passionately she bids him farewell. She gives him an American flag and a toy to play with, bandages his eyes, and goes behind the screen with the sword. We hear it fall and the dying Butterfly emerges and gropes her way towards her son. Sharpless and Pinkerton burst into the room. Butterfly dies, Sharpless takes the child, while Pinkerton falls to his knees. Fast curtain.
“Whistles and boos after the final curtain,” writes Julian Budden in his biography of the composer. William Ashbrook, in his study of The Operas of Puccini quotes from Giulio Gatti-Casazza’s Memories of Opera: “absolutely glacial silence.” (Gatti-Gasazza was La Scala’s General Manager at the time, and from 1908-1935 ran New York’s Metropolitan Opera.) Whichever is true, the performance was considered a failure Puccini withdrew the score and returned his fee to Ricordi. But he believed it was “the most heartfelt and evocative opera I have ever conceived.” To his nephew he wrote: “I know that I have written a genuine, living opera and that it will certainly rise again.” He was convinced that, with some minor revisions, the opera would prove successful.

Both Illica and Giacoso, at various times, had objected to the treatment – or, perhaps, lack of treatment – of the ostensible hero, Pinkerton. Early in the process Illica complained to Ricordi: “Look…at the role of the tenor! Problems!…Pinkerton is unsympathetic!” Late in the process, Giacoso objected to a proposed cut of some rueful Pinkerton lines when he and Sharpless show up at Butterfly’s house in what is now the final scene. The cut, he wrote, would essentially remove the tenor from the interminabile second act (at the time there was no break after the “Humming Chorus”), inflicting serious damage to the dramatic structure. (Given that La Scala audiences had, by 1904, sat through assorted Wagner operas, Giacoso’s comment seems gratuituous.) Ricordi pointed out that Pinkerton was not a traditional leading-tenor role on the contrary he was “a mean American leech who is afraid of Butterfly and dreads her meeting with his wife and so beats a retreat.”
It was decided that, with “minor revisions”, the opera would be given a second chance in Brescia three months later. These revisions were, in one sense, indeed minor, but major in others. The greatest difference between the two productions was that Giacoso’s interminabile second act was divided into two parts, though Puccini was reluctant to give up the idea of a two-act opera he settled for Act Two, Part One, and Act Two, Part Two. When Puccini acknowledged Illica’s draft libretto in October, 1901, he mentioned an “intermezzo”: an orchestral version of the “Vigil” scene which had so impressed him in London. Soon he’s thinking of “mysterious voices humming.” Which became part of the seamless texture of his orchestral tone-poem of the transition from evening to the next day. Lowering the curtain at the end of so-called “Humming Chorus” meant that the audience had to be summoned back, musically, for the final scene. Major mistake on Puccini’s part, in my opinion.

Since both Illica and Giacoso had complained about Pinkerton’s scant appearances (neither of them very flattering) in the La Scala production, they must have been delighted it was decided he needed some kind of solo on his return, if only to restore his status as a primo tenore. The librettists reworked the opening of Act Two, Part Two, using material from the abandoned Consulate Scene to allow the Tenor another aria. Puccini complied with a romanza, in which Pinkerton bids farewell , essentially, to his youth.

The production at Brescia on May 28, 1904 – three months after its fiasco at La Scala – justified Puccini’s faith in the score. It was a triumph.
What changed? The Pinkerton, Sharpless and conductor were the same as at La Scala the original Butterfly, Rosina Storchio, was on her way to Buenos Aires to sing the role there, conducted by Toscanini. Her replacement was Salomea Krusceniski, born in what is now the Ukraine already well-known for her performances of Verdi’s Aida and Ponchielli’s Gioconda, hers was a voice considerably more “dramatic” than Storchio’s: you can compare the two on youtube! Certainly the role needs a voice which can soar over Puccini’s unleashed orchestra at the great emotional climaxes: the Love Duet in Act One the two arias in Act Two, Part One, as well as the moment when she believes Pinkerton has returned to her and her exalted farewell to her son in the final moments of the opera.

But, for all of Krusceniski’s vocal and dramatic gifts, she alone could not account for the success at Brescia. What revisions did the authors make? As I’ve said, not many.

The opening scene between Pinkerton and Goro remains unchanged. Sharpless arrives and their scene is the same as at La Scala. Butterfly and her friends arrive: no change. To the Consul’s admiration of the beauty of Butterfly, and his congratulations to Pinkerton, Puccini added comments, already heard, from the Friends and Relations. At La Scala, when Butterfly introduced to Pinkerton her cousin and her son, the child sang one word: “Eccellenza!” Brescia gave it to the cousin. Butterfly confesses to Pinkerton she visited the Mission. In Milan she said she couldn’t explain it, other than that she seemed drawn more to praying to one powerful and eternal god, than to the many gods of the Japanese. Those lines were cut for Brescia.

After the wedding ceremony, and alone with his new in-laws, Brescia cut Pinkerton’s request for a song from his drunk uncle Yakusidé, and the song as well! Act One continued as at La Scala.

Not until Pinkerton’s ship has been sighted were there any changes to Act 2. At La Scala Butterfly mocked her relations who advised her to forget Pinkerton she gave the child (who had remained on-stage since he was introduced to Sharpless pages back) an American flag, and re-named him “Joy.” Which led into the “Flower Duet”. In Brescia Suzuki takes the child away during the violent confrontation between Butterfly and Goro, which allows Butterfly to sing to her most faithful friend her gloriously triumphant new lines: “He’s come back and he loves me!” Without the child, the opening lines of the duet needed changing – for the better, since it can now concentrate on gathering the flowers. Butterfly’s lines about her family’s reactions, as Suzuki is arranging her hair, were abbreviated for Brescia.

Butterfly pierces holes in the paper walls of the shoji so that all three of them can watch for Pinkerton’s arrival. Humming is heard – the music of Sharpless’s reading of Pinkerton’s letter. And the curtain, in Brescia, fell.

Suzuki, as well as Trouble, have fallen asleep during the night. She wakes up and goes to Butterfly, standing and gazing towards the harbor, still confident that Pinkerton will come. Suzuki tells her to go to bed and she’ll let her know when he arrives. Butterfly picks up the sleeping child and exits, singing a lullaby. With the arrival of Pinkerton and Sharpless we are back, briefly, in the La Scala original. What seems to have been a duet between the Consul and Suzuki, where he encourages her to talk to Mrs. Pinkerton in the garden, followed by broken phrases from Pinkerton as he surveys the house, is now a trio until Suzuki exits into the garden. Pinkerton says he can’t stay there any longer, and says he’ll wait for him on the path back to the city he gives the Consul money and confesses his remorse. Sharpless upbraids him for his behavior and reminds him of what he told him at his wedding: “She believes in you.” Now, finally, Pinkerton realizes his mistake and admits he will never be able to forget it. Realizing he is dealing with a “mean American leech” (as Ricordi had described him), Sharpless tells him to leave: she should learn the truth alone. Now follows the tenor’s aria. Which is more a farewell to his youth than an acknowledgement of guilt for the actions of his youth he admits he’s been “vile,” but cannot cope with the wretchedness of Butterfly’s life, and, literally, runs away from it.

Back to the original La Scala text for the remainder of the tragedy.

So, I hear you say – if you’ve followed me this far – the mere division into two parts of a questionably long second act, together with the introduction of an aria for the tenor in the opening section of Act Two, Part Two, turned the fiasco at La Scala into a triumph at Brescia? Essentially, yes, but… It’s now generally agreed that a faction in the Milanese audience (perhaps “rented” for that evening) was determined, for whatever reason, to disrupt the performance, and very successfully they did. Puccini’s confidence in a score he deeply believed in was shattered, and he spent the rest of his life tinkering with it to such an extent that we’ll never know what he really wanted.

Ricordi published a piano-vocal score to coincide with the La Scala première mysteriously every copy was bought up. (A “piano-vocal score” is one containing all of the vocal parts, but with the orchestra condensed into something that can be played by the rehearsal pianist.) The piano-vocal score of the Brescia version was published. We know that Puccini made some alterations for the first London production, in 1905, at Covent Garden, but not, as far as I’ve been able to discover, what they were. To coincide with the first American production, in 1906, by Henry Savage’s New English Opera Company in D.C. a piano-vocal score was published with an English translation. Albert Carré, who ran the Opéra Comique in Paris, saw the opera in London and decided to produce the opera in 1907, with his wife in the leading role.
After three years of renting to opera houses all over the world hand-written orchestral scores and parts, Ricordi felt it was time to print an orchestral score that would reflect the composer’s wishes it was decided that this printing would be based on the Paris production. Ricordi was dismayed by the number of changes Carré demanded, but in the summer of 1906 Puccini met with the Frenchman and they quickly agreed to his suggestions.

The best change must be that of Pinkerton’s name. At La Scala and at Brescia, he was Sir Francis Blummy Pinkerton. It’s possible the name was changed either for the London production, or for Henry Savage’s one in D.C., but after Paris it becomes official. It’s also possible that Pinkerton’s racist comments about the Japanese reflected changes already made, but gone, in Paris, are his references to his “mugs,” including the speech ordering such local delicacies as “candied spiders and flies”. Carré seemed determined to reduce Pinkerton’s swaggering American naval officer (with the world as his oyster) of the 1904 La Scala and Brescia productions to a fairly non-descript “leading tenor” role.

Gone is Butterfly’s introduction of her Uncles the drunk Yakusidé, stripped of his folk-song, and other interjections, becomes a cipher. Butterfly’s confession to Pinkerton about her visit to the Mission was revised for Brescia (cutting out her reference to the many Japanese gods as opposed to the one all-powerful American god) in Paris she didn’t sing of kneeling together with him in the same church to pray to the same god.

The wedding ceremony was reduced to its essentials, with the officials and Sharpless leaving as soon as possible. Pinkerton, alone with his new in-laws, is deprived of the chance to get his uncle drunk and hearing him sing his folk-song, for Carré cut from the family’s general toast to the couple to the arrival of Uncle Bonze.

In the duet that ends the act, Carré cut the lines where Butterfly confesses that she was not initially impressed by the idea of marrying an American – a barbarian. We get the idea, but the extra lines clarify her train of thought.

Carré found no fault in Act Two, Part One, until the scene with Sharpless. He has asked her to consider what she might do if Pinkerton never returned. Her response, addressed to her child, tells of returning to her former life as a geisha, singing and dancing. In Italy, while begging in the streets, an official would notice her son’s blue eyes and mother and child would be adopted by the Emperor and all would end happily. In France that triumphant music would become Butterfly’s determination never to return to her former life: she’d rather die.

In the final scene, Carré decided to give most of Kate Pinkerton’s lines to the Consul. He also eliminated Sharpless’s embarrassed attempt to give Butterfly Pinkerton’s money. And shortened the argument (already shortened for Brescia) between Suzuki and her mistress: Butterfly’s folk-song is gone.

If the Paris version of the score, which is usually performed today (and will be at Utah Opera) were all we had, we would easily, and readily, accept it as a masterly depiction of Butterfly’s obsession with her unfaithful lover. But it seems that the Paris version was but a railway station on the opera’s journey. As late as 1921 (three years before he died) Puccini “supervised” a production at the Teatro Carcano in Milan in a vocal score that survives from that production are three hand-written additions, all taken from the original La Scala score, with a note to say that the additions were authorized by the composer.

It is sad to think that, more than a century after the first performance of what has become one of the most popular operas in the repertoire, we don’t know what the composer and his librettists were, ultimately, trying to write. What started out as a study of East (Japan)-West (American) relationships at a time when those relationships were of great interest, devolved into more of an “opera-as-usual” drama. Admittedly, the concentration on the heroine was unusual for 1904,and, even with his added “Romanza”, the tenor role remains minimal. At least the baritone is not the villain!

Who is to blame for this flawed wonder? Certainly not Illica and Giacoso, the librettists.


From the Archives: Madama Butterfly at the Met

Today, Puccini operas are an essential part of the core repertory for opera houses around the world. But at the beginning of the 20th century, Puccini was a contemporary composer churning out pieces for opera houses hungry for new works. Although his Madama Butterfly was poorly received at its 1904 world premiere, he quickly revised the opera, and it began to conquer the operatic world. Three years after the world premiere at La Scala, Puccini was invited to the Metropolitan to oversee its first staging here. Apart from the composer&rsquos presence, the stars of that first Met Madama Butterfly were Geraldine Farrar (pictured above, with Louise Homer as Suzuki) and Enrico Caruso in their first performance together. They would henceforth be the Met&rsquos biggest box office duo. Farrar&rsquos youth and beauty were as much a part of her fame as her voice, and as her fame grew over the next 15 years, she developed a fan-base of mostly young women called &ldquogerryflappers&rdquo who imitated her style. On the other hand, Caruso was idolized for his voice, which, especially through his recordings, made him the most beloved singer in the world. Puccini confided in a letter that he was not particularly pleased by either of the stars. Although he was normally highly vulnerable to beautiful women, he wrote cryptically that Farrar &ldquowas not what she ought to have been.&rdquo And while he admitted Caruso&rsquos voice was &ldquomagnificent,&rdquo he thought him lazy and unwilling to learn. Nonetheless, when the composer&rsquos La Fanciulla del West had its world premiere at the Met in 1910, Caruso was the lead tenor. Farrar, though, was not invited to sing Minnie.

The year following Madama Butterfly&rsquos Met premiere, the opera was revived with the same lead singers, but this time with maestro Arturo Toscanini (pictured above, with Farrar and General Manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza). He, too, took issue with Farrar. At a rehearsal, she told him he should follow her lead, as she was the star. Toscanini&rsquos famous response was: &ldquoThe stars are all in the heavens, mademoiselle. You are but a plain artist, and you must obey my direction.&rdquo An explosion ensued, but Toscanini won out. As time went on, their antagonism turned into something quite different, most likely a torrid love affair that may have been a chief factor in Toscanini&rsquos quitting the Met in 1915.

From 1908 onward, it was a rare Met season in which Madama Butterfly did not appear. The exception, predictably, was during World War II. The 1941 season opened on November 24, and five nights later, Madama Butterfly was given. Then, on December 7, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, killing many Americans and bringing the nation into the war. Madama Butterfly was not offered again at the Met until 1946.

The Met&rsquos leading Butterfly in the 1940s and 50s was Italian soprano Licia Albanese (pictured above), whose 72 appearances as the betrayed geisha were second only to Farrar&rsquos (139) in frequency. Other notable sopranos who have interpreted the part at the Met include Victoria de los Angeles (pictured below), Dorothy Kirsten, Catherine Malfitano, Leontyne Price, Elisabeth Rethberg, Renata Scotto, Antonietta Stella, and Renata Tebaldi.

Given the popularity of Madama Butterfly&mdashto date, there have been 881 Met performances&mdashit is surprising how few new productions there have been. Following the premiere production, a new production in 1922 lasted in the repertory until 1958! That year, the Japanese team of Yoshio Aoyama, director, and Motohiro Nagasaka, designer, created a widely admired production that played for an equally long time, until 1994. Giancarlo Del Monaco&rsquos 1994 production was succeeded by that of Anthony Minghella, which was chosen as the opening night of General Manager Peter Gelb&rsquos first season in 2006.


When did Puccini write Madam Butterfly?

Puccini began work on Madam Butterfly in 1901, initially looking at integrating traditional Japanese melodies into the score. Soon, however, he had a major distraction in his life: the arrival of his first motor car, a splendid De Dion Bouton. And within no time, he managed to slide his new pride and joy off the road into a ditch when, one particularly foggy evening, his chauffeur took a bend too fast and ended up rolling it down an embankment. Puccini was discovered lying under the overturned car, suffering from shock and with a broken shin that left him with a permanent limp. As if to rub salt into his wounds, tests at the time showed he was also suffering from diabetes.

Despite being thrown out of the vehicle, Puccini’s illegitimate son Antonio and long-suffering partner, Elvira, were left relatively unscathed – although his chauffeur suffered a fractured femur. For Elvira this was almost the final straw, as her relationship with Puccini had already been tested severely by his dalliance with a young Turin woman known simply as Corinna. Pretty, vivacious and playfully enchanting, Corinna restored the middle-aged composer’s fading youth in a way that Elvira – who at the time was still married to someone else – couldn’t hope to compete with.

Elvira had suspected Puccini of playing away for some time, but the situation came to a head after she discovered a letter that left the full extent of the relationship in no doubt. He promised to break things off with Corinna, although behind the scenes he kept fanning the flames of love until, following the death of Elvira’s husband, he was compelled by friends and family to do the ‘right thing’ and marry her. But at least he now had a new motorboat to take his mind off things.


American consul Sharpless returns, but is interrupted by Prince Yamadori, Cio-Cio-San's wealthy suitor. He argues she should marry him because she is divorced under Japanese law, now her husband has left, but she refuses. Japanese law, she protests, doesn't apply to her because she's now an American woman. Photo: ENO/Clive Barda


The History Of ‘Madama Butterfly’ In Japan

“It was not the ‘alien’ music that disturbed the Japanese audience” at the Tokyo premiere in 1914 (there had been a Western music school in the city since 1890), “but the threat to traditional hierarchies between men and women. Later, in the 1930s, feminist writers such as Ichiko Kamichika and Akiko Yosano criticised the opera for promoting a ‘victim’ like Butterfly as something of a Japanese ‘paragon’. Somewhat ironically, Butterfly thus proved to be an effective catalyst for the emergence of a new model of womanhood in Japan. Moreover, the Japanese themselves gradually began to find Madama Butterfly exotic and alien.” – History Today

Read the story in History Today Published: 03.03.21

Duke Ellington is interviewed by Edward R. Murrow on Person to Person. This episode was originally telecast live by CBS on March 15, 1957: (This is the latest in a series of arts-. Read more “Where there is the greatest love, there are always miracles.” Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop Continue reading Almanac: Willa Cather on love at About Last Night. Read more “There can be no true goodness, nor true love, without the utmost clear-sightedness.” Albert Camus, The Plague Continue reading Almanac: Camus on goodness and love at About Last Night. Read more For this entry, I’m sharing the latest episode of the NEA’s research podcast (Quick Study). This month, we look at promising study results from Boston’s public schools, where arts education has been. Read more “Instruments of the Orchestra,” the 1946 film in which Malcolm Sargent narrated and led the London Symphony in Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra: (This is the latest in a series. Read more “Being with you and not being with you is the only way I have to measure time.” Jorge Luis Borges, “The Threatened” Continue reading Almanac: Borges on love at About Last Night. Read more A new book on the arts in health provides an excellent perspective and good advice on effective community engagement. Read more How could I not be excited? The Centre Pompidou, Paris’ premier museum for modern and contemporary art, is coming to a venue near me—a mere 10 miles south of La Maison Rosenbaum. Read more From 2017: The loss of a loved one tears a permanent hole in the fabric of our existence. We learn in time to look away from it and walk around it, but. Read more “I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by. Read more A scene from My Favorite Year, directed by Richard Benjamin, written by Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo, and starring Mark-Linn Baker and Jessica Harper: (This is the latest in a series of arts-. Read more “To love is to will the good of the other.” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica Continue reading Almanac: Aquinas on love at About Last Night. Read more Gabriel Van Aalst, President & CEO of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, talks about their new “Artistic Catalyst” role and the importance of serving community. Read more

Madame Butterfly Premieres - HISTORY

The story upon which the libretto of Puccini's Madama Butterfly is based is an amalgam of a narrative by John Luther Long, a Philadelphia lawyer, and the play derived from that narrative by playwright and theatrical producer, David Belasco. Long claimed to have based his story on incidents related to him by his sister, the wife of a missionary stationed in Nagasaki. However, it is difficult to believe that the author would not have known Pierre Loti's popular novel, Madame Chrysanthème, published first in French in 1887 and soon after in English translation. Indeed, much of the plot is contained in the French novel with some notable exceptions.

Madame Chrysanthème is the first-person narrative of a young naval officer, Pierre, who enters into a temporary marriage with a geisha while stationed in Japan. The loosely autobiographical novel (Loti himself had a temporary Japanese wife) details the "little adventure" from his arrival in Nagasaki -- including his engagement of a marriage broker, his relationship with Chrysanthème, and his eventual departure. The central character here is clearly Pierre he is every bit as callous as the Pinkerton of Puccini's first Act. Chrysanthème is practical, unemotional and secondary. They part amicably the final scenes portray the geisha testing the silver dollars she received in fulfillment of the marriage contract and a rather tepid leave-taking:

Come my little mousmee [the term used by the French for their Japanese wives], let us part good friends. Let us even embrace, if you wish. I took you for my own amusement and, although you may not have been a total success, you gave me what you could: your little body, your respect, and your quaint music. All in all, you have been sweet enough in your Nipponese way. And, who knows, perhaps I shall think of you from time to time, in a roundabout way, when I recall this glorious summer, the pretty gardens, and the music of the cicadas.

Long's story, "Madam Butterfly," used the French novel as a structural model but his attention is firmly held by the eponymous geisha. His 18-page story (misleadingly referred to as a "novel" in Puccini's correspondence) first appeared in the January 1898 issue of Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (the name itself is an ironic accentuation of his role as the American intruder) of the United States Navy marries the young Cho-Cho-San, nicknamed "Madam Butterfly," and forces her to relinquish all ties to her friends and family. Unlike her counterpart in Madame Chrysanthème, the naïve Butterfly believes that her marriage is real, and she allows herself to fall in love. Pinkerton departs with his ship, promising to return. During his absence, Butterfly gives birth to his child. She names the boy Trouble, a name she plans to change to Joy when she reunites with her husband. When Pinkerton's ship finally does return, Butterfly learns that he has married an American woman who wishes to take Butterfly's child back to the United States. Butterfly attempts suicide but survives and is bandaged in the amateurish but moving final scene of the story.

Long's story was wildly popular with a public fascinated by the exotic. Many famed actresses approached him for the dramatic rights, but it was David Belasco, himself at the peak of his fame, who adapted Butterfly for the stage. Contrary to numerous reports, Belasco wrote the stage version without Long's assistance. However, the playwright borrowed liberally from the magazine story and therefore much of the dialogue is indeed Long's. The play had only one act and was produced as part of a double bill with a farce entitled Naughty Anthony, also by Belasco. The entire action of the play takes place two years after Pinkerton's departure. Thus the focus is almost entirely on Butterfly and her maid. Pinkerton makes an ignominious entrance toward the conclusion of the play, inspiring and witnessing Butterfly's (this time successful) suicide. Belasco's tragic ending was coupled with another innovation that impressed Puccini: the 14-minute vigil wherein Butterfly silently awaits Pinkerton's arrival. Belasco vividly depicted the night's shadows through creative lighting effects.

Once again, the exotic setting played a major role in the success of Butterfly. The lack of familiarity with Japanese culture served not only as a point of interest but also as a form of insulation from the play's tragic conclusion. The London Times reported, "in any other than an exotic setting, the dramatic episode would be intolerably painful." It was this London production that Puccini witnessed in the summer of 1900.

The libretto of Madama Butterfly is one of those rare instances in operatic history where the text is actually an improvement over its sources. The dimensions of the opera, the finely etched depictions of its characters, its inexorable progress to its dénouement, and the beautiful verses and dialogue constructed by Giuseppe Giacosa all stand in marked contrast to the writings discussed above. Coupled with Puccini's emotionally charged musical score, Madama Butterfly produces an effect at once intimate and overwhelming, a haunting portrayal of the dangers of misguided love.


Watch the video: Madama Butterfly premiere Moscow (August 2022).