Tuesday October 8th, 7:30 p.m.
An opera in two acts [1904 version]
by Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924)
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
after the one-act play Madame Butterfly by David Belasco
Premiered on February 17th 1904 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan
A 2016 production from Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Direction by Avis Hermanis
Set Design by Avis Hermanis and Leila Fteita
Costume Design by Kristine Jurjane
Lighting Design by Gleb Filshtinsky
Choreography by Alla Sigalova
Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala
Conducted by Riccardo Chailly
The action takes place in the early 1900s in Nagasaki, Japan
Goro, a marriage broker, is showing Pinkerton, a Lieutenant in the United States Navy, over the house which Pinkerton has bought for his bride to be, Cio-Cio San, a geisha known as Madam Butterfly.
Pinkerton is about to marry her in accordance with the Japanese law which holds that the husband’s absence, even for so short a time as a month, constitutes a divorce.
The first wedding guest to arrive is Sharpless, the American Consul, who begs him not to enter into the marriage so lightly, as he has learnt that Butterfly has taken the irrevocable step of renouncing her religion.
But Pinkerton cannot believe that a mere geisha-girl would take the ceremony seriously.
Butterfly, followed by her friends and family, arrive and the marriage contract is signed.
Suddenly the Bonze appears and denounces her for having forsaken her religion.
All turn in horror and curse her as they depart.
Pinkerton consoles his wife and in spite of his cynicism finds himself, for the first time, seriously in love with Butterfly and she in turn makes her love clear to all except Pinkerton himself.
Pinkerton has been recalled to America shortly after his marriage and three years later Butterfly is living alone, practically impoverished, with her faithful servant Suzuki.
In spite of Suzuki’s disbelief, Butterfly is sure of Pinkerton’s return and refuses an offer of marriage from Yamadori who has loved her for years. Butterfly tells him that she considers herself bound by the laws of her husband’s country and Yamadori leaves her.
Sharpless, has brought a letter from Pinkerton announcing that he is returning to Nagasaki with an American wife and asking him to break the news to Butterfly.
Butterfly is so excited at the news of her husband’s return that Sharpless has no opportunity to tell her of the blow to come. He tries to persuade her to accept Yamadori’s offer but she shows him Pinkerton’s child and insists that this is security enough for his return.
Sharpless leaves her, deeply moved, and unable to bring himself to deliver his message.
The harbour cannon is heard to announce the arrival of Pinkerton’s ship, the Abraham Lincoln. In a fever of excitement Butterfly and Suzuki decorate the house with flowers in honour of his arrival and, as night falls, settle down to wait for him.
As dawn breaks the sailors' voices are heard from the harbour. Butterfly is still waiting and watching for Pinkerton. Suzuki persuades her to rest awhile.
Sharpless arrives with Pinkerton and Kate, his American wife. Pinkerton, realising the strength of Butterfly’s devotion, is filled with remorse and rushes out, leaving Kate and Sharpless to meet Butterfly. They beg Suzuki to prepare her mistress for the coming blow and tell her that Kate wishes to adopt her husband’s son.
Butterfly learns the truth from Kate and asks that Pinkerton himself fetch the child.
Please note the change from
the originally advertised screening of Dardanus
Goro, the marriage broker, points out Cio-Cio San to Sharpless, the American Consul
(Annalisa Stroppa as Suzuki, Maria José Siri as Cio-Cio San, Carlos Álvarez as Sharpless, Carlo Bosi as Goro)
Click here to see La Scala's oficial trailer for this production
This 2016 presentation from Milan is identical to the first performance, set in two acts, which took place at Teatro alla Scala in February 1904. However, it was poorly received and following a single performance, Puccini revised it, splitting the second act in two. In this three act form it was more successfully presented at Brescia in July of the same year.
The opera was Puccini’s favourite among his own operas and his revised version has found its way into the popular repertoire for every opera house in the world. It is based on the one-act play Madame Butterfly by David Belasco who dramatised it from a magazine story recounting a real incident. The authentic geisha was Tsuru Yamamura, who after an attempted suicide, died in Tokyo, in 1899, at the age of 48.
Puccini's most vital creation
Stephen Williams in his classic Come to the Opera introduces his commentary on Madama Butterfly with an apposite quote from Maeterlinck:
'And if he ever should come back,
What am I to say?
—Tell him that I watch'd for him
All my life away …
And if he should ask me then
How you fell asleep?
—Tell him that I smiled and died.
Do not let him weep.'
- Maeterlinck (trans. Frederick York Powell)
Madam Butterfly is often called the 'Handkerchief Opera', because you must take a handkerchief to the theatre if you wish to enjoy it as Puccini intended you should. It is useless to harden your heart— Puccini will win.
In no other opera is his power to draw tears so irresistible; in no other opera is his slightly perverted sense of pity so acute. I say 'slightly perverted' because it always seems to me the product of a kind of sadism, the pity of a man who intensifies his pity by giving pain to the thing he loves. And in Madam Butterfly his needle is keener and more incisive than anywhere else.
Butterfly herself is his most vital creation—a living, breathing woman whose every line is exquisitely and infallibly in character. Moreover, the librettists have cruelly intensified our pity for her by setting her heartrending loyalty against the brutal self-satisfaction of that ogling, swaggering, hip-swinging operatic 'masher', Lieutenant Pinkerton.
NEXT MEETING: Tuesday November 5
TALE OF TSAR SALTAN (Rimsky-Korsakov)
St Petersburg 2016
This resplendent production by Russia's oldest musical institution, the Mariinsky Theatre, is an absolute treat. It is filled with colourful music including the famous 'Flight of the Bumblebee'.
Valery Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus.