Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Libretto: Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Premiere: February 17, 1904, Teatro alla scala, Milan
Nagasaki, around the turn of the 20th century
American naval officer Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton is to marry Cio Cio San (Miss Butterfly), a poor young geisha from a formerly prominent family. Pinkerton is an arrogant adventurer in search of unforgettable experiences and unique pleasures. He therefore has reservations about marrying Cio Cio San, yet decides to proceed with the ceremony. The American consul Sharpless warns Pinkerton that Cio Cio San may be more serious about the marriage than he realizes. An unfazed Pinkerton retorts that he will later marry an American woman. Cio Cio San arrives in her wedding clothes, accompanied by her friends and relatives. She privately informs her betrothed that she has converted to Christianity at the local mission out of respect for him. The Imperial Commissioner then reads the marriage contract to the assembly. While the guests congratulate the happy couple, the Bonze (a Buddhist monk), Cio Cio San’s uncle, suddenly darkens the celebratory mood, angrily chastising Cio Cio San for forsaking her ancestral religion. Cio Cio San’s shocked relatives proceed to curse the poor geisha while Pinkerton orders them to depart. The couple retire to their home, where they declare their love for one another and spend their first night together.
Nagasaki, three years later
Lieutenant Pinkerton has been gone for three long years. Cio Cio San’s loyal servant, Suzuki, prays to the ancestral gods, while Cio Cio San, who has given birth to Pinkerton’s son, continues to wait for her American husband. Suzuki attempts to gently tell Cio Cio San that Pinkerton may never return. Cio Cio San refuses to listen to Suzuki, instead choosing to envision how joyous it will be when Pinkerton returns to her. Sharpless arrives at her home with a letter from Pinkerton. He begins to read the letter, but does not have the heart to finish it. Goro, the unscrupulous marriage broker, then attempts to marry Cio Cio San off to Prince Yamadori. Cio Cio San is polite to Yamadori, but refuses his offer of marriage due to her unwavering devotion to Pinkerton. Sharpless encourages Cio Cio San to reconsider Yamadori’s offer. Distraught, she presents her young son to Sharpless, who promises to inform Pinkerton of the child. Cio Cio San and Suzuki hear a cannon shot from the harbor and realize that Pinkerton’s ship has safely docked. They joyfully spread flowers on the floor in preparation for his arrival. Night falls, and Cio Cio San peacefully keeps watch over the harbor.
The sun rises, and Cio Cio San finally falls asleep. Sharpless, Lieutenant Pinkerton, and Pinkerton’s American wife, Kate, arrive at Cio Cio San’s house. Suzuki somberly agrees to inform Cio Cio San of Kate’s presence. Pinkerton, seeing the decorated house, feels overwhelming guilt and quickly flees the scene. Cio Cio San wakes and suddenly realizes that Kate is Pinkerton’s new wife. She agrees to give up her son, but on the condition that Pinkerton fetch him. She then dismisses the guests, leaves her son to play, and commits suicide with her father’s dagger to preserve her honor whilst Pinkerton calls for her.