Madama Butterfly
music by Giacomo Puccini
libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

The Story of Madama Butterfly

Prologue, 1970s
Pinkerton visits Nagasaki again and is overcome with memories. He remembers what life here was like 50 years ago. Watching American sailors flirting and pursuing Japanese schoolgirls, he thinks about himself a long time ago, and about Butterfly the way he saw her for the last time. Once again he re-lives the whole story.

ACT I, Nagasaki, 1920s
Pinkerton, an American naval officer, has taken out a 999-year lease on a little house and is making the final arrangements with the Japanese marriage-broker Goro, for a Japanese wedding. From a discussion with the American consul, Sharpless, we gather that according to Japanese law the marriage will not be binding. Pinkerton revels in his carefree attitude as a Yankee vagabondo who takes his pleasure where he finds it (Dovunque al mondo). Sharpless tries in vain to warn him that his 15-year-old bride Butterfly is serious about the marriage. Butterfly arrives with her geisha friends. After greeting Pinkerton, she shows him her few belongings—including the ceremonial dagger with which her father killed himself. She destroys the Ottoké, little figures representing her ancestors, as a sacrifice to her new life with Pinkerton and her new religion, thus renouncing her culture and her own people. The commisioner performs the wedding ceremony. But the festivities are short-lived: her uncle (the Bonze) arrives and curses her for converting to Christianity and her relatives and friends immediately join him in rejecting her. Butterfly is left alone with Pinkerton, who tries to console her. Her servant Suzuki prepares her for the wedding night, and Butterfly joins Pinkerton in the garden. He is enchanted with his plaything-wife and, while she speaks tenderly of her love, he ardently claims his fluttering, captured butterfly.

ACT II, Three Years Later
Butterfly and Suzuki are alone. Pinkerton sailed for America three years ago, but Butterfly remains fiercely loyal and describes to Suzuki her vision of his return. Sharpless, knowing that Pinkerton has taken an American wife and will soon be arriving in Nagasaki with her, attempts to prepare Butterfly for the shock. But Butterfly will not listen; she shows Sharpless the child she has borne Pinkerton without his knowledge, convinced that this revelation will ensure her husband’s return. Sharpless leaves, unable to face Butterfly with the truth. A cannon shot is heard, and Butterfly and Suzuki see Pinkerton’s ship coming into the harbor. Butterfly jubilantly prepares for his return, filling the room with flowers. With preparations complete, the two women and the child sit down to wait for Pinkerton’s arrival. Night falls.

ACT III, The Next Morning
Butterfly has fallen asleep at her post. She sees a wonderful dream. It is dawn when Butterfly awakes and carries the sleeping child into the next room. Pinkerton and Sharpless arrive and ask Suzuki to talk to Pinkerton’s new wife, Kate, who is waiting outside. Suzuki agrees, but the sight of her distress, together with memories of the past, overcome Pinkerton. He is filled with remorse (Addio fiorito asil), and he leaves rather than face the woman he deserted. Butterfly rushes in, searching desperately for Pinkerton, but she sees only the strange woman. Suzuki and Sharpless manage to break the news that this is Pinkerton’s wife, and that her husband will never return to her. Butterfly seems to accept the blow, and agrees to give up her son, asking only that Pinkerton come in person to fetch him. Kate and Sharpless leave; Suzuki tries to comfort Butterfly, but she asks to be left alone. She takes her father’s dagger and prepares to kill herself. Suzuki pushes the child into the room, and Butterfly is momentarily deterred. After an impassioned farewell, she stabs herself just as Pinkerton rushes in, calling her name.

Madama Butterfly Index | Synopsis | The Program | Director’s Notes | Publicity Pictures | Sunset Sequence | 44th Season

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