The Plot to Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini

Madama Butterfly is one of the most famous and beautiful operas of all time. Set in Japan in the late 1880’s, this haunting opera is based on a young girl called Cio-Cio-San, known as Madam Butterfly, who falls in love and marries Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton with tragic consequences.

 The premiere of the opera was on the 17th February 1904 in Milan comprising of two acts. The second Act was originally an hour and a half which was too long for the Italian audiences Puccini then withdrew the opera to revise it. The second version was performed on the 28th May 1904 in Brescia. The third version of the opera premiered in Paris on the 28th December 1906.

The characters:

Cio-Cio-San who is also known as Madam Butterfly (Soprano).

Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (Tenor).

Suzuki, Madam Butterfly’s maid (Mezzo-soprano).

Kate Pinkerton, the wife of Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (Mezzo-soprano).

Sharpless, the US consol in Nagasaki (Baritone).

Goro, the marriage broker (Tenor).

Prince Yamadori (Tenor)

Bonze and Yakuside, the uncles of Madam Butterfly (both Baritones).

Imperial Commissioner (Baritone).

Offical Registar (Baritone).

Butterfly’s Mother (Mezzo-soprano).

The Aunt (Soprano).

The Cousin (Soprano).

Dolore, Butterfly’s child (silent)

A Cook (silent).

Butterfly’s friends, family and servants (the chorus).

The Synopsis:

Act I

Lieutenant Pinkerton, from the US Navy, has fallen in love with the 15 year old geisha known as Butterfly. He arranges this marriage with her – but states the marriage can be ended any time he wishes. Consul Sharpless warns Pinkerton against this plan, pointing out that the young girl is genuinely in love with him. Pinkerton dismisses this and arranges the marriage. Butterfly’s family agrees to the marriage and the ceremony is held at the house Pinkerton has brought. Butterfly’s uncle, the Bonze, who is a Shinto priest, curses his niece for converting to Christianity for her love of a foreigner. Pinkerton comforts his beautiful wife, who now sees him as her only family.

Act II

Pinkerton has returned to the US and Butterfly has not heard from him in three years, yet she continues to be patient and wait for him. Sharpless visits her; he has received a letter from Pinkerton saying he has married an American woman and will be visiting Japan with his new bride. However, Sharpless cannot read this letter to Butterfly initially as the young woman is visited by Prince Yamadori who wishes to marry her. Butterfly refuses, saying she is loyal to Pinkerton. When Prince Yamadori leaves, Sharpless reads the contents of the letter to Butterfly. The young woman is devastated and introduces the consul to her son by Pinkerton, a child he was unaware of. Suddenly there is cannon fire from the harbor, announcing the arrival of Pinkerton’s ship. Despite the letter, Butterfly hopes that he will return to her. With Suzuki, she adorns the house with flowers and waits up all night to receive him.

Act III

The next morning, Butterfly is still waiting for Pinkerton but in vain. Hesitantly, Pinkerton approaches the house with the consol. Suzuki sees Pinkerton first and is about to tell her sleeping mistress but then sees a foreign woman in the background. She guesses correctly that this is his new wife, who wants to adopt Butterfly’s child. Pinkerton cannot find the courage to tell Butterfly and leaves. Butterfly emerges, sees the woman and understands at last. She agrees to let them take her child. She takes a dagger inherited from her father, who used it to commit hara-kiri on the emperor’s orders. She says goodbye to her son and commits sucide in the traditional Japanese manner and dies in Pinkerton’s arms.

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