Madama Butterfly, Opera by G. Puccini
Cio-Cio-San, Madama Butterfly’s beautiful, tragic heroine impersonates Giacomo Puccini’s trademark knack for female characters who suffer for their love. Obsessed with telling her story as well as possible and dressing her in some of his most magnificent melodies, the Maestro worked frantically on the score up until the opera’s premiere. At Teatro alla Scala on 17 February 1904, the under-rehearsed performance was far from a success. However, a revamped and better-prepared Madama Butterfly got standing ovations and compliments on 28 May that same year in Brescia. Teatro Costanzi in Rome stages a faithful revival of the beloved classic this season.
Puccini saw David Belasco's drama Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan in London in 1900, and he felt an immediate urge to turn the melodramatic tale into an opera. The Italian libretto was written by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, frequent collaborators of the Maestro. Puccini referred to the folk music of the Far East and North America when writing the score, using recognisable ethnic motifs and styles for the Japanese and American characters. His excellent interludes and the famous ‘Humming Chorus’ notwithstanding, the calling card of Madama Butterfly is the heroine’s wistful aria ‘Un bel dì, vedremo’, so keep your ears open for it.
‘Cho-cho’ is the Japanese word for ‘butterfly’, which gives the opera its title. The main character, Cio-Cio-San, is a Japanese woman madly in love with U.S. Navy Lieutenant Pinkerton. Shortly after they marry each other and consummate their union, he returns home, leaving her alone and, as it later turns out, with child. Everything about him says he never took this marriage seriously. Years go by without a word from him, yet Cio-Cio-San remains faithful, optimistic, and yearning for the day of his return. Sure enough, that day arrives, but the Pinkerton who shows up at Cio-Cio-San’s door is not the one from her memories or dreams. A tragic, gripping finale will leave audiences at Teatro dell’Opera di Roma breathless.