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Giacomo Puccini

Madama Butterfly

Madama Butterfly -  Giacomo Puccini

Three of the most popular Italian operas in the repertoire —The Barber of Seville, La traviata, and Madama Butterfly were resounding failures on their opening nights, and of those three failures Butterfly’s was perhaps the most resounding of all. Everyone, from the composer and cast down to the orchestra players and the stagehands, had confidently expected nothing but another triumph for the composer of Manon Lescaut, La Boheme, and Tosca. Yet even the glorious entry music of Butterfly (sung by the great Rosina Storchio) was greeted with silence—and silence from an Italian audience is an ominous thing at best. Later in the first act there were cries of "That’s from Boh&me . . . Give us something new!” Hisses greeted the first-act curtain; and when, near the beginning of the second act, a breeze billowed up Storchio’s gown, someone cried out: "Butterfly is pregnant!” From then on it was a long series of catcalls, moos, cock-a-doodle-doos, and obscenities. And the reviews, on the whole, were not much more polite.

Puccini, bewildered and heartbroken, canceled the other scheduled performances at La Scala though it meant the payment of a considerable sum, took back his score, and made a number of revisions, the chief of them being to divide the long second act into what we now hear as Acts II and III. Three and a half months later the revised version was mounted in Brescia under the baton of Arturo Toscanini.

Now the opera was a huge success. In the first act the audience applauded the scenery and demanded an encore for Pinkerton’s little aria as well as of the entire love duet. Four more numbers had to be repeated later on, and after each of them, in the quaint Italian fashion, the composer came on the stage to take a bow along with the singers. "Never again,” to quote George Marek, Puccini’s finest biographer, “did Butterfly fail. No other first performance proved short of a triumph.”


Madam Butterfly)

Opera in three (originally two) acts by Giacomo Puccini with libretto in Italian by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, based on David Belasco’s play of the same name, which was in turn based on a story by John Luther Long


her servant
SHARPLESS, U. S. Consul at Nagasaki
GORO, a marriage broker
PRINCE YAMADORI, a rich Japanese
THE BONZE, Cio-Cio-San’s uncle 
Cio-Cio-San’s child

Time: about 1900
Place: Nagasaki  
First performance at Milan, February 17, 1904


Madama Butterfly:

Butterfly (Puccini: Madama Butterfly). Sop. Known as Butterfly, her real name is Cio-Cio-San and she is a 15-year-old geisha. She is about to be married to an American, Lieut. Pinkerton, a contract arranged by a marriage-broker. For Pinkerton it is a light-hearted arrangement, but Butterfly takes it very seriously. She has fallen in love with him and renounced her own religion in order to have a Christian wedding, bringing down the wrath of her uncle who has led the family in rejecting her. This distresses her greatly, but after the wedding Pinkerton consoles her as, to a passionate duet, they retire for the night. The next time we see Butterfly it is three years since Pinkerton returned to the USA, promising her he will come back. Her maid, Suzuki, has no faith in his promise, but Butterfly believes him and prepares for his arrival. Pinkerton is indeed coming back, but he now has an American wife and has asked Sharpless, the US Consul, for help in preparing Butterfly for the truth. Sharpless visits Butterfly bringing a letter for her explaining the position. As soon as she sees the letter, she assumes her husband is returning to her, and all Sharpless’s efforts to convince her otherwise are foiled, either by interruptions from others or by Butterfly’s own excitement. When she produces her son, bom after Pinkerton departed, Sharpless realizes he cannot tell her the truth. The cannon sounds to announce the docking of Pinkerton’s ship and Butterfly and Suzuki rush round cleaning and decorating the house for his return. As night falls, her son and her maid sleep, but she continues to watch for her husband—in the distance wordless voices can be heard (the Humming Chorus). Next morning Suzuki sends her for a rest. Pinkerton and Sharpless arrive and Pinkerton at last realizes how much heartache he has caused. Unable to face Butterfly, he again leaves Sharpless to deal with things. Gradually the truth dawns on Butterfly—Pinkerton wants to take their son back to America to be brought up by him and his American wife. He can have his son, she says, but he must come himself to collect him. Left alone with her child, Butterfly blindfolds him so that he cannot see what she is about to do. She then kills herself with her father’s ceremonial sword. Arias: Un bel dl vedremo (‘One fine day he’ll come’); Che tua madre (‘That your mother’); duet (with Pinkerton): Vogliatemi bene (‘Love me a little’).
Created (1904) by Rosina Storchio.


Maria Callas "Un bel dì vedremo Start" Madame Butterfly (Puccini) 
Orchester der Mailänder Scala
Herbert von Karajan

MONTSERRAT CABALLE "Un bel dì vedremo Start" Madame Butterfly (Puccini) 



Mezzo-soprano. Butterfly's loyal and devoted servant. She does not believe that Pinkerton will come back to Butterfly and is not surprised when she learns the true reason for his return. She is fiercely protective towards her mistress, though cross with her for being so loyal to a man she feels is unworthy of such devotion. Duet (with Butterfly): Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio (‘Shake that branch of the cherry tree’). Created (1904) by Giuseppina Giaconia.

Renata Tebaldi as Madama Butterfly and Fiorenza Cossotto as Suzuki in the well-known duet "Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio... Or vieni ad adornar" (Flower Duet) from Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Conductor Tullio Serafin, Recorded in Rome, 1958.

"Il Cannone Del Porto!" (Flower Duet) - Madama Butterfly - Giacomo Puccini

Montserrat Caballe - Soprano - Madama Butterfly
Shirley Verrett - Mezzo soprano - Suzuki

Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton:


Tenor. Lieutenant in the US Navy. His ship has docked at Nagasaki and he has arranged through a marriage broker to marry a 15‐year‐old Geisha, Cio‐Cio‐San, known to everyone as Butterfly. His friend Sharpless, the US Consul in Nagasaki, strongly disapproves of this marriage. Although he has bought a house for his bride, Pinkerton regards her as a temporary amusement whereas Sharpless knows how Butterfly has fallen in love with her prospective husband. Butterfly and her family arrive for the wedding and she tells Pinkerton how she has forsaken her own religion so that they can have a real Christian wedding. This has alienated her relatives who are making a great fuss. Pinkerton orders them to leave and he and Butterfly are united in a passionate love duet as they retire for the night. Three years later, Butterfly awaits Pinkerton's return—he has gone to America, promising her he will return ‘when the robins nest)’. He does not know that Butterfly has borne his son. He writes her a letter to say that he now has an American wife and he sends this to Sharpless, asking him to explain the situation to Butterfly before Pinkerton arrives in Nagasaki in his ship, the Abraham Lincoln. Pinkerton arrives at the house with Sharpless and is greeted by Butterfly's maid, Suzuki, who soon learns the truth and sees Kate, Pinkerton's wife, waiting in the garden. At last Pinkerton, seeing how the house has been made ready to welcome him, realizes the distress he has caused. Unable to face Butterfly, he runs from the house, once again leaving Sharpless to do the explaining—Pinkerton wants to take his son back to America to be raised there by him and Kate. He receives, through Sharpless, a message from Butterfly—he can have his son, but he must come in person to collect him. He arrives at the house just after Butterfly has stabbed herself with her father's ceremonial sword and she dies as he enters to claim his child. Aria: Addio, fiorito asil (‘Farewell, flowery refuge’); duet (with Butterfly): Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malía (‘Dear child, your eyes full of witchery’).

Pinkerton is not the most likeable of men—he is quite happy to marry the young Cio‐Cio‐San, with no intention of taking his wedding vows seriously, boasting to Sharpless even before the wedding has taken place that he will probably marry an American wife when he returns to the USA. He gives no thought to the damage this might do to Butterfly, and it is only when he returns three years later and learns that Butterfly gave birth to their son after he left her, that the tragedy of the situation dawns on him. Even then his primary concern is to take his son back to America, regardless of the cost to Butterfly—and indeed it costs her her life. Pinkerton sings in duet with Butterfly and with Sharpless and in many ensembles, but has no major solo aria. The short aria he sings in the second act was added by Puccini after the première to pacify the tenor who resented having no big solo. Nevertheless, the role has attracted many great Italianate tenors, including Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Richard Tucker, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Carlo Bergonzi, Giuseppe di Stefano, Nicolai Gedda, Jussi Björling, Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and Jerry Hadley. Created (1904) by Giovanni Zenatello.

Enrico Caruso - Addio fiorito asil (1910)

Addio Fiorito Asil - Franco Corelli

Kate Pinkerton:

Mezzo-soprano. American wife of Lieut. B. F. Pinkerton, the American Navy officer who married Butterfly. She goes with her husband to ask Butterfly to allow them to take his son back to America. (The role is larger in the first version of the opera than in the revision.) Creator (1904) not traced.



Baritone. The US Consul in Nagasaki and friend of Lieut. Pinkerton. The two men meet at Butterfly's house and Sharpless makes it clear to Pinkerton that he considers his happy‐go‐lucky attitude to his forthcoming marriage to the young Butterfly to be irresponsible and unfair. Sharpless points out that the girl clearly loves him and can therefore easily be hurt, but Pinkerton treats the situation lightly. Shortly after their wedding night, he sails for America. Three years later, Butterfly is still confident that he will come back to her as he promised. Sharpless visits her—he has had a letter from Pinkerton in which he explains that he now has an American wife and he has asked the Consul to break this news to Butterfly. As soon as she sees the letter, Butterfly assumes her husband is returning to her and keeps interrupting all attempts to read the letter to her. Sharpless, aware of the upset it will cause, suggests she should marry the wealthy Yamadori. Butterfly now produces the son who was born after his father left for America. The Consul, unable to proceed with his news, promises Butterfly he will write and tell Pinkerton about the child, although he knows it is too late and that Pinkerton is already on his way to Japan. As Butterfly rests in an adjoining room, Sharpless accompanies Pinkerton to the house and they are admitted by her maid, Suzuki. It is Sharpless who explains to Suzuki that they have come to discuss the future care of the child. Butterfly enters the room and Sharpless explains to her that Pinkerton has an American wife, Kate. He asks Butterfly to let the child return with them to America and she agrees on condition that Pinkerton comes himself to collect his son. Sharpless leaves with Kate to pass on this condition to Pinkerton. When the two men return, Butterfly is dying.

Sharpless is a sympathetic person, who has forced upon him all the cruel acts which Pinkerton, in his cowardly way, avoids. Sharpless has to break the bad new to Butterfly, for whom he clearly feels sorry, and he no doubt could see the eventual outcome from the beginning, hence his attempts to dissuade Pinkerton from marrying Butterfly in the first place. Sharpless does not have any great aria to sing, usually appearing in conversational duets or ensembles. However, his Act 2 scene with Butterfly, when he tries to read her her husband's letter, is most moving and there has never been a shortage of baritones willing to undertake this role—in fact, one rarely sees a poor Sharpless on the stage. Well‐known artists in this role have included John Brownlee, Giuseppe Taddei, Tito Gobbi, Rolando Panerai, Hermann Prey, Delme Bryn‐Jones, Ingvar Wixell, and Juan Pons. Created (1904) by Giuseppe De Luca.



Tenor. A marriage‐broker who has arranged a wedding between the American naval officer Pinkerton and a 15‐year‐old Japanese girl Cio‐Cio‐San, known to all her friends as Butterfly. When it seems that Pinkerton has deserted Butterfly and her money is running out, Goro produces the wealthy Japanese Prince Yamadori and tries to persuade Butterfly to marry him. Created (1904) by Gaetano Pini‐Corsi.


Prince Yamadori:

Baritone. A rich Japanese prince who wants to marry Butterfly and is introduced to her by the marriage‐broker Goro. Goro does not believe that her husband, the American naval officer Pinkerton, will return to Nagasaki, and tries to persuade Butterfly to accept Yamadori, who will keep her and her son in comfort. Butterfly is not interested, convinced that Pinkerton will come back to her. Creator (1904) probably Emilio Venturini.

The Bonze:

Bass. Uncle of Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly). He curses her for changing her religion in order to marry Pinkerton and rejects her, encouraging the rest of her family to do likewise. Created ( 1904 ) probably by Paolo Wulmann.




At the turn of the century—about forty-five years before an atom bomb destroyed it—the harbor town of Nagasaki was a very pretty place. On the outskirts of the town, and overlooking the harbor, is a pretty Japanese villa. In the garden, when the opera begins, there are a Japanese busybody and an American naval officer. The busybody is Goro, the marriage broker; the officer is Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, U.S.N. Goro has arranged a marriage for the Lieutenant, and he shows him over the house that has been rented for 999 years (with, of course, a convenient cancellation clause). The marriage contract, by the way, has the same convenient clause-cancelable at a month’s notice.

When the United States Consul, Sharpless, calls, he tries to persuade Pinkerton that there is danger in this arrangement, for Sharpless knows the prospective bride, her name being Cio-Cio-San, or Madam Butterfly, and he fears that the probable result will break her tender heart someday. But Pinkerton cannot be made to take anything seriously, and he even proposes a toast to the day when he will be really married—in the United States.

And now it is practically time for the wedding ceremony. Butterfly, accompanied by her relatives, makes her entrance as her voice soars above the close harmony of her female companions. She tells Pinkerton about herself and her family and her age—which is only fifteen—and she shows him various trinkets she carries in her large Japanese sleeve, including a dagger her father had used to commit suicide on the order of the Mikado. The general tone of the meeting, however, is very gay. The Imperial Commissioner performs the brief legal ceremony, and everyone sings a toast to the happy pair when, suddenly, an ominous figure interrupts. He is Butterfly’s uncle, the Bonze, a Japanese priest, who has learned that Butterfly has renounced her traditional religion in favor of Christianity and has come to cast her out. All the relatives side with the Bonze, and they turn on the young bride. But Pinkerton orders them all away; and in the long and wonderful love duet that closes the act, Butterfly forgets her troubles. Together, Lieutenant and Madam Pinkerton enter their new home.

Giacomo Puccini's "MADAMA BUTTERFLY"
Wichita Grand Opera
January 8, 2011

Producer: Parvan Bakardiev

Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly) - Yunah Lee
Pinkerton - Alexey Sayapin
Sharpless - Michael Nansel
Suzuki - Suzanne Hendrix
Goro - Patrick Greene
The Bonze - Charles Turley
Prince Yamadori - Stanford Felix
Yakuside - Terry McManis
Imperial Commissioner - David Settle
Registrar - Jim Ellis
Cio-Cio-San's mother - Erin Mundus
Cio-Cio-San's aunt - Stephanie Gilmore
Cio-Cio-San's cousin - Stella Roden
Kate Pinkerton - Kristee Haney
Dolore - Daniel D'Acosta


Three years have passed quietly in Butterfly’s house, but Lieutenant Pinkerton has not been heard from. Suzuki, who has been praying to her Japanese gods, tries to tell her mistress that he never will come again. At first Madam Butterfly is angry, but then she sings her famous ecstatic aria Un bel dl, describing in detail how one fine day he will sail into the harbor, come up the hill, and again meet his beloved wife.

Soon there is an embarrassed visitor—Sharpless, the American Consul. He has a letter he wishes to read, but Butterfly makes such a hospitable fuss over him that he cannot get going. They are interrupted by the marriage broker, Goro, bringing with him the noble Prince Yamadori, who wishes to marry Butterfly. The lady politely but firmly refuses the Prince, whereupon Sharpless again tries to read the letter. Actually it tells of Pinkerton’s marriage to an American girl, but the Consul does not have the heart to break the news—and so only a portion of the letter is read aloud in the Letter Duet. Instead, he asks what Butterfly would do if Pinkerton never returned. For a moment she thinks that suicide would be the only answer. Gently Sharpless advises her to accept the Prince. That is impossible, she insists—and she brings in the reason for the impossibility. It is her young son, named Trouble. But, she adds, he will be called Joy when his father returns. Utterly defeated, Sharpless leaves.

And now a cannon is heard from the harbor. An American ship—Pinkerton’s ship, the Abraham Lincoln -  has arrived!

With joy Butterfly and Suzuki decorate the house as they sing their lovely Flower Duet. Then they prepare to await the arrival of the master. Through holes in the screen, Butterfly, Suzuki, and Trouble prepare to watch the harbor throughout the night. A beautiful melody (used earlier in the Letter Duet) is played and hummed by an off-stage chorus, and the act quietly closes.

Giacomo Puccini - Madam Butterfly -France Cinema - 1995


The beginning of the last act finds Suzuki, Butterfly, and Trouble just where they were at the close of the second, excepting that the child and the maid are now sound asleep. It is morning and there are noises from the harbor. Butterfly takes her sleeping little boy into another room, singing him a lullaby. Into the garden comes the Consul Sharpless, accompanied by Lieutenant Pinkerton and Kate Pinkerton, his American wife. Suzuki almost at once realizes who this is. She cannot bear to tell her mistress, and neither can Pinkerton. He sings a passionate farewell to his once-happy home, and leaves. But Butterfly, coming in now, sees Kate and realizes that inevitable tragedy has struck her. With dignity she tells Kate that she may have her boy if Pinkerton will come soon to fetch him.

Left alone with the child, she knows there is only one thing to do. First she blindfolds him; then she goes behind a screen; and with her father’s dagger she stabs herself. As she drags herself toward the boy, Pinkerton comes rushing back, crying, “Butterfly! Butterfly!” He is, of course, too late. He falls on his knees by her body as the orchestra thunders forth the fateful Asiatic melody heard before, each time that death has been mentioned.

Puccini "Madama Butterfly" 

Cio-Cio-San: Mirella Freni
B. F. Pinkerton: José Carreras
Suzuki: Teresa Berganza
Sharpless: Juan Pons
Goro: Anthony Laciura
Bonzo: Kurt Rydl
Kate Pinkerton: Marianne Rørholm
Yamadori: Mark Curtis
Commissario: Hidenori Komatsu
L'ufficiale del registro: Hidenori Komatsu
Cugina: Noriko Sasaki
Madre: Hitomi Katagiri
Lo zio Yakuside: Petteri Salomaa
Zia: Judith Howarth

Ambrosian Opera Chorus
Leader: John McCarthy
Philharmonia Orchestra
Conductor: Giuseppe Sinopoli

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