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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

The Story of Cio-Cio-San (Madame Butterfly) 蝴蝶夫人



Madama Butterfly (Italian pronunciation: [maˈdaːma ˈbatterflai]; Madame Butterfly) is an opera in three acts (originally two) by Giacomo Puccini, with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa.

It is based on the short story "Madame Butterfly" (1898) by John Luther Long, which in turn was based on stories told to Long by his sister Jennie Correll and on the semi-autobiographical 1887 French novel Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti. Long's version was dramatized by David Belasco as the one-act play Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan, which, after premiering in New York in 1900, moved to London, where Puccini saw it in the summer of that year.

The original version of the opera, in two acts, had its premiere on 17 February 1904 at La Scala in Milan. It was poorly received, despite having such notable singers as soprano Rosina Storchio, tenor Giovanni Zenatello and baritone Giuseppe De Luca in lead roles. This was due in part to a late completion by Puccini, which gave inadequate time for rehearsals. Puccini revised the opera, splitting the second act in two, with the Humming Chorus as a bridge to what became Act III, and making other changes. Success ensued, starting with the first performance on 28 May 1904 in Brescia.


Act 1


In 1904, a U.S. naval officer named Pinkerton rents a house on a hill in Nagasaki, Japan, for himself and his soon-to-be wife, "Butterfly". Her real name is Cio-Cio-San (from the Japanese word for "butterfly" (蝶々, chōchō, pronounced [tɕoꜜːtɕoː]); -san is a plain honorific). She is a 15-year-old Japanese girl whom he is marrying for convenience, and he intends to leave her once he finds a proper American wife, since Japanese divorce laws are very lax. The wedding is to take place at the house. Butterfly had been so excited to marry an American that she had earlier secretly converted to Christianity. After the wedding ceremony, her uninvited uncle, a bonze, who has found out about her conversion, comes to the house, curses her and orders all the guests to leave, which they do while renouncing her. Pinkerton and Butterfly sing a love duet and prepare to spend their first night together.


Act 2

Butterfly and her son 'Trouble' (Dolore) in 1917...

Three years later, Butterfly is still waiting for Pinkerton to return, as he had left shortly after their wedding. Her maid Suzuki keeps trying to convince her that he is not coming back, but Butterfly won’t listen to her. Goro, the marriage broker who arranged her marriage, keeps trying to marry her off again, but she doesn’t listen to him either. The American consul, Sharpless, comes to the house with a letter which he has received from Pinkerton which asks him to break some news to Butterfly: that Pinkerton is coming back to Japan, but Sharpless cannot bring himself to finish it because Butterfly becomes very excited to hear that Pinkerton is coming back. Sharpless asks Butterfly what she would do if Pinkerton were not to return. She then reveals that she gave birth to Pinkerton's son after he had left and asks Sharpless to tell him.

From the hill house, Butterfly sees Pinkerton's ship arriving in the harbour. She and Suzuki prepare for his arrival, and then they wait. Suzuki and the child fall asleep, but Butterfly stays up all night waiting for him to arrive.


Act 3

Suzuki wakes up in the morning and Butterfly finally falls asleep. Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive at the house, along with Pinkerton's new American wife, Kate. They have come because Kate has agreed to raise the child. But, as Pinkerton sees how Butterfly has decorated the house for his return, he realizes he has made a huge mistake. He admits that he is a coward and can’t face her, leaving Suzuki, Sharpless, and Kate to break the news to Butterfly. Agreeing to give up her child if Pinkerton comes himself to see her, she then prays to statues of her ancestral gods, says goodbye to her son, and blindfolds him. She places a small American flag in his hands and goes behind a screen, stabbing herself with her father's seppuku knife. Pinkerton rushes in, but he is too late, and Butterfly dies.


Today Madama Butterfly is the sixth most performed opera in the world and considered a masterpiece, with Puccini's orchestration praised as limpid, fluent and refined.


The photo was done on the busy streets of Venice during Carnevale, with German costumer Falk Maske in his Japanese themed costume. The theme of this year’s Carnevale is Ad Oriente - The extraordinary journey of Marco Polo. So there's a lot of Asian inspired Venetian Masked costumes this year. I switched the background to a cherry blossom scene from Japan.



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