Madama Butterfly (or sometimes Madame Butterfly in English) is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini, set in Japan. It is based on the book by John Luther Long and the drama by David Belasco. Text by Illica and Giacosa. First production, Milan, 1904.
The opera takes place in Nagasaki, Japan in 1904.
In the first act Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton, a sailor aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln marries Cio-Cio-San, or Madama Butterfly, a fifteen year old Japanese girl. Goro, a marriage-broker, has arranged the match, and has rented a little house on the hillside for them to live in. The American consul, Sharpless, a kind-hearted man, begs Pinkerton to forego this plan, because the girl believes the marriage to be binding. The lieutenant laughs at him, and the bride appears with her friends, joyous and smiling. Sharpless finds that to show her trust in Pinkerton she has renounced the faith of her ancestors so that she can never return to her own people. (Butterfly: "Hear what I would tell you.") The marriage contract is signed and the guests are drinking a toast to the young couple, when the bonze, a religious fanatic, uncle of Cio-Cio-San, enters, uttering imprecations against her for renouncing her faith, and induces her relatives to abandon her. Pinkerton, annoyed, hurries the guests off, and they depart in anger. With loving words he consoles the weeping bride, and the two begin their new life happily. (Duet, Pinkerton, Butterfly: "Just like a little squirrel"; Butterfly: "But now, beloved, you are the world"; "Ah! night of rapture.")
Act two begins three years later. Pinkerton is away in the United States, having promised to return "When the robins nest again." Suzuki, Madama Butterfly's faithful servant, rightly suspects that this means never, but is upbraided for want of faith by her trusting mistress. (Butterfly: "Weeping? and why?") Sharpless has been deputed by Pinkerton in a letter to tell Butterfly that the lieutenant has married an American wife. Seeing her wonderful faith, the consul cannot bear to destroy it. Butterfly is so wild with delight at the sight of her lover's letter that she is unable to comprehend its contents. She believes Pinkerton is coming back, and in her joy refuses to listen to Yamadori, a rich suitor brought by Goro, saying that she is already married. Goro tries to explain that a wife abandoned is a wife divorced, but she declares proudly, "That may be Japanese custom, but I am an American." Sharpless cannot move her, and at last, as if to settle all doubt, she proudly shows him her fair-haired child, saying, "Can my husband forget this?" The consul departs sadly, just as the guns salute the newly arrived man-of-war, the Abraham Lincoln, Pinkerton's ship. Butterfly and Suzuki, in wild excitement, deck the house with flowers, and array themselves and the child in gala dress. All three peer through the shoji to watch for Pinkerton's coming. As the night passes, a long period of only orchestra plays as Suzuki and the child fall asleep, but Butterfly, alert and sleepless, never stirs.
Act three opens at dawn when Butterfly is still watching. Suzuki awakens and brings the baby to her. (Butterfly: "Sweet, thou art sleeping.") She persuades Butterfly to rest. Pinkerton and Sharpless arrive and tell Suzuki the sad truth, but the lieutenant is deeply moved (Pinkerton: "Oh, the bitter fragrance of these flowers!"), and cannot remain. Suzuki, at first violently angry, is finally persuaded to listen as Sharpless tells her that Mrs. Pinkerton will care for the child if Butterfly will give him up. Butterfly appears, radiant, expecting to see Pinkerton, but is confronted instead by his wife. She receives the truth with pathetic calmness, politely congratulates the new wife, and asks her to tell her husband that in half an hour he may have the child, and that she herself will "find peace." Then having bowed her visitors out, she is left alone. At the appointed time Pinkerton and Sharpless return to find Madam Butterfly dead by her own hand (Finale, Butterfly: "You, O beloved idol!") after having bidden farewell to her little child. She had used as a weapon her father's sword, with the inscription: "To die with honour, when one can no longer live with honour."
References: Plot originally taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.
- Act I: ...E soffitto...e paretti...
- Sorride Vostro Onore?
- Dovunque al mondo
- America forever
- Ier l'altro il Consolato
- Ecco. Son giunte al sommo del pendio
- Gran ventura
- L'Imperial Commissario
- Vieni, amor mio!
- Ieri son salita tutta sola in segreto alla Missione
- Tutti zitti!
- O Kami! O Kami!
- Cio-Cio San!
- Bimba, bimba non piangere
- Viene la sera
- Vogliatemi bene
- Act II: A Izaghi ed Izanami, Sarundasico e Kami
- Un bel di vedremo
- C'è. Entrate
- Non lo sapete insomma
- Si sa che aprir la porta
- Ora a noi. Sedete qui
- Ebbene, che fareste, Madama Butterfly
- E questo? E questo?
- Che tua madre dovrà prenderti in braccio
- Vespa! Rospo maledetto!
- Una nave da guerra
- Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio
- Or vienmi ad adornar
- Coro a bocca chiusa
- (fischi d'uccelli dal giardino)
- Act III: Già il sole!
- Chi sia?
- Lo so che alle sue pene
- Non ve l'avevo dettó?
- Addio fiorito asil
- Suzuki! Suzuki! Dove sei?
- Tu, Suzuki, che sei tanto buona
- Come una mosca prigioniera
- Con onor muore chi non può serbar vita con onore
Influences on popular culture
- 1988: In the play M. Butterfly, Butterfly is denounced as a western stereotype of a timid, submissive Asian.
- 1996: The second album by Weezer, "Pinkerton," takes its name from this opera. The last song on the album, "Butterfly" tells the story of the opera, and there are a few other mentions of it. (E.g. Cio-Cio San is referenced in "El Scorcho.")
- 2004: On the 100th anniversary of Madama Butterfly, Shigeaki Saegusa composed Jr. Butterfly. The libretto was by Masahiko Shimada and the conductor was by Naoto Otomo. Tenor Shigehiro Sano performs Jr. Butterfly and soprano Shinobu Sato plays Naomi, his love. Jr. Butterfly is the story of what happens to the son of Madame Butterfly and Pinkerton. It is set before, during and after WWII. The half-Japanese half-American Jr. Butterfly is an intelligence officer for the Americans and falls in love with a Japanese girl. At the core of the story is the love story between Jr. Butterfly and the girl, but the opera covers a lot of ground such as the identity struggle of Jr. Butterfly's chanpon background and the intentions of the US vis a vis war with Japan before the war. With Madam Butterfly originally set in Nagasaki, the role of Nagasaki in the closure of the war ties it all together.
- Madame Butterfly Turns 100 (http://www.npr.org/display_pages/features/feature_1672482.html); A Century Ago, Puccini's Tragic Heroine First Took the Stage". NPR.
- The libretto (http://opera.stanford.edu/Puccini/Butterfly/libretto.html)
- The original book by John Luther Long (http://opera.stanford.edu/Puccini/Butterfly/source/JLLong.html)