Madama Butterfly, Opera by G. Puccini
Hopeless love and doomed heroines are among Giacomo Puccini’s specialties. It is no wonder that he felt an instant attraction to the character of Cio-Cio-San in David Belasco’s play Madame Butterfly. The great composer chanced upon the play in London and, although he did not speak English, he grasped the heroine’s unmistakable emotional charge. Puccini’s glorious and tragic Madama Butterfly now comes to Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence.
Relying on his faithful librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, Puccini took great care to insert distinct cultural references in his new opera. The stage sets incorporated Japanese decoration, and musical motifs from both the Far East and the United States appeared prominently to characterise the dramatis personae and immerse the audience even deeper in the tragic plot. It was the first time Puccini ventured eastward, and he would later return there for his ultimate work, Turandot.
In Madama Butterfly, we are introduced to Cio-Cio-San (‘chocho’ is Japanese for ‘butterfly’) who is in love with US Navy Lieutenant Pinkerton. He, on the other hand, regards her as an exotic adventure and object of fleeting passion. When the time comes for him to leave Japan, Cio-Cio-San is devastated, but she remains hopeful that one day he will return.
Three years have passed, and Cio-Cio-San has given birth to Pinkerton’s son when the naval officer returns. Contrary to the Japanese woman’s hopes and dreams, however, he only wants to take the boy away to the States, to live with his American family. After all the waiting and the unbelievable callousness of her former lover, Cio-Cio-San decides to end her life.
The conflicting emotions, with which Madama Butterfly is imbued, inspired Puccini to craft a strongly evocative score. Love, deceit, hope, despair – all these emotions find their strong musical embodiment in the Maestro’s painstaking and inventive orchestration. Cio-Cio-San’s wistful, expecting, optimistic aria ‘Un bel di vedremo’ is the high point of the whole opera and one of the most inspired soprano solos in the catalogue.
When Madama Butterfly was first performed at Milan’s La Scala on 17 February 1904, it suffered a surprising backlash. After revisions by Puccini, the second, massively successful premiere in Brescia on 28 May 1904 paved Madama Butterfly’s way to its rightful place among opera’s greatest works.