Tragedia giapponese in three acts (1904)
Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica after David Belasco
»Madama Butterfly« is based on a novella that is allegedly a true story. When American fleets forced the opening of Japanese ports in around the mid-19th century, Japanese culture started to influence the West, not just vice versa. Soon operas and operettas were set in this new-found country, which, despite its rapid technological progress, promised a very different modernity through the preservation of its own culture. Giacomo Puccini incorporated the exoticism of Japan’s setting and its music far more than through mere colonialist appropriation. He studied sources of Japanese music, integrated original songs into his score and was inspired to write sophisticated instrumentation and distinctive timbres. These combine to make his »Japanese tragedy« one of the most touching operas in history. Eike Gramss’ production deals sensitively with this clash between two cultures in a scintillating Japanese setting.
- Kate Pinkerton
- Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton
- PRINCE YAMADORI
- UNCLE BONZE
BACKGROUND The American naval lieutenant Pinkerton is spending three months in Nagasaki on business. He meets the geisha Cio-Cio-San, whom everyone calls Butterfly. He finds her so fascinating that he immediately decides to marry her. Japanese law permits him to end the marriage at any time. ACT I Pinkerton has Goro, the marriage broker, show him the house he has rented for Butterfly and himself. The American consul Sharpless warns Pinkerton not to take Butterfly’s love lightly. Pinkerton ignores his advice and drinks with Sharpless to his future marriage to an American woman. – Butterfly brings her friends and relatives with her, and the wedding ceremony is performed quickly and without fuss by the registrar. Suddenly the priest appears and curses Butterfly for wanting to convert to Pinkerton’s faith. – Pinkerton sends the wedding guests away. He tenderly attempts to comfort Butterfly. ACT II Butterfly has been waiting unwaveringly for three years for Pinkerton to return from America. She is indignant that Suzuki, her maid, does not share her certainty. Sharpless visits Butterfly. He has received a letter from Pinkerton, who has asked him to prepare Butterfly for the fact that he will be returning to Japan but not to her, since he is now married. Butterfly is beside herself with joy to hear that there is news of Pinkerton and repeatedly interrupts Sharpless. He is unable to inform her of the letter’s true contents. – Goro brings Prince Yamadori to Butterfly; the prince wants to marry her. She mocks him for the many marriages he has entered into and then ended; she then rejects him. – Sharpless advises Butterfly to become Yamadori’s wife and to stop waiting for Pinkerton. She then shows Sharpless the child she bore after Pinkerton’s departure, insisting that he will come to his son and to her. Sharpless promises to tell Pinkerton about the child. – Suzuki pushes Goro into Butterfly’s house. He has been telling people that no one knows who the child’s father is. Butterfly wants to kill him. Suzuki stops her. – A cannon is fired, signalling the arrival of Pinkerton’s ship in the harbour. Butterfly and Suzuki decorate the house. ACT III Butterfly has spent the entire night waiting in vain for Pinkerton. Exhausted, she retires. While Butterfly is sleeping, Sharpless enters with Pinkerton and his wife, Kate. They have decided to take the child to America and to have it raised there. They want Suzuki to help them to convince Butterfly that this is the right decision. Pinkerton finds the situation unbearable and leaves. – Butterfly wakes up. She understands what they want of her. She asks that Pinkerton pick up his son himself. – Butterfly bids farewell to her child and then kills herself. When Pinkerton returns, he is not able to take the child with him. Sharpless leads the child away.