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Madama Butterfly

Madama Butterfly (or sometimes Madame Butterfly in English) is an opera in two acts by Giacomo Puccini, set in Japan. It is based on the book by John Luther Long and the drama by David Belasco. Text by Illica and Giacosa. First production, Milan, 1904.


Place, Nagasaki, Japan.
Time, the present.

ACT I. Lieutenant Pinkerton, U.S.N., and Cho-Cho-San, or Madama Butterfly, a Japanese girl, are about to enter into a Japanese marriage. Goro, a marriage broker, has arranged the match, and has rented a little house on the hillside for them to live in. The American consul, Sharpless, a kind-hearted man, begs Pinkerton to forego this plan, because the girl believes the marriage to be binding. The lieutenant laughs at him, and the bride appears with her friends, joyous and smiling. Sharpless finds that to show her trust in Pinkerton she has renounced the faith of her ancestors so that she can never return to her own people. (Butterfly: "Hear what I would tell you.") The marriage contract is signed and the guests are drinking a toast to the young couple, when the bonze, a religious fanatic, uncle of Cho-Cho-San, enters, uttering imprecations against her for renouncing her faith, and induces her relatives to abandon her. Pinkerton, annoyed, hurries the guests off, and they depart in anger. With loving words he consoles the weeping bride, and the two begin their new life happily. (Duet, Pinkerton, Butterfly: "Just like a little squirrel"; Butterfly: "But now, beloved, you are the world"; "Ah! night of rapture.")

ACT II. Part I: Three years later. Pinkerton is absent in America, having promised to return "When the robins nest again." Suzuki, Madama Butterfly's faithful servant, rightly suspects that this means never, but is upbraided for want of faith by her trusting mistress. (Butterfly: "Weeping? and why?") Sharpless has been deputed by Pinkerton in a letter to tell Butterfly that the lieutenant has married an American wife. Seeing her wonderful faith, the consul cannot bear to destroy it. Butterfly is so wild with delight at the sight of her lover's letter that she is unable to comprehend its contents. She believes Pinkerton is coming back, and in her joy refuses to listen to Yamadori, a rich suitor brought by Goro, saying that she is already a wife. Goro tries to explain, but she declares proudly, "That may be Japanese custom, but I am an American." Sharpless cannot move her, and at last, as if to settle all doubt, she proudly shows him her fair-haired child, saying, "Can my husband forget this?" The consul departs sadly, just as the guns salute the newly arrived man-of-war, the Abraham Lincoln, Pinkerton's ship. Butterfly and Suzuki, in wild excitement, deck the house with flowers, and array themselves and the child in gala dress. All three peer through the shoji to watch for Pinkerton's coming. As the night passes, Suzuki and the child fall asleep, but Butterfly, alert and sleepless, never stirs.

Part II. At dawn poor little Butterfly is still watching. Suzuki awakens and brings the baby to her. (Butterfly: "Sweet, thou art sleeping.") She persuades Butterfly to rest. Pinkerton and Sharpless arrive and tell Suzuki the sad truth, but the lieutenant is deeply moved (Pinkerton: "Oh, the bitter fragrance of these flowers!"), and cannot remain. Suzuki, at first violently angry, is finally persuaded to listen as Sharpless tells her that Mrs. Pinkerton will care for the child if Butterfly will give him up. Butterfly appears, radiant, expecting to see Pinkerton, but is confronted instead by his wife. She receives the truth with pathetic calmness, politely congratulates the new wife, and asks her to tell her husband that in half an hour he may have the child, and that she herself will "find peace." Then having bowed her visitors out, she is left alone to face her sorrowful fate. At the appointed time Pinkerton and Sharpless return to find Madam Butterfly dead by her own hand (Finale, Butterfly: "You, O beloved idol!") after having bidden farewell to her little child. She had used as a weapon her father's sword, with the inscription: "To die with honour, when one can no longer live with honour."

References and external links: Plot originally taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.

Malcolm McLaren based a 1984 U.K. top-20 single on the opera. The Broadway musical Miss Saigon was in part based on the Butterfly story. In the play M. Butterfly, Butterfly is denounced as a western stereotype of a timid, submissive Asian.

Madame Butterfly is also the name of a 1915 Hollywood motion picture directed by Sidney Olcott and starring Mary Pickford.