A Tragic Tale of Love, honor, and betrayal
Music by Giacomo puccini
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Sung in Italian with English supertitles
Saturday June 16 at 7:30 pm
Please join us immediately afterwards for a free “Meet the Artists” opening night reception
Sunday June 24 at 3 pm
Sunday July 1 at 3 pm
Matthews Theatre, McCarter Theatre Center
91 University Place, Princeton
Tickets: $45 | $55 | $75 | $95 | $115 | $150
Tickets will go on sale in March.
Reserved seating | Opera Seat Map
running time: Approx. 2 hrs 40 min, including one intermission
Wig & Make-up Design:
Richard Tang Yuk
Madama Butterfly features intense emotions set to beautiful, expressive music. This masterpiece of the operatic stage is a compelling dramatic experience you will not want to miss.
Beauty, TRUTH, Tragedy
Madama Butterfly tells of the unrequited love of a young Japanese geisha, Cio-cio-san (the Butterfly of the title), for B.F. Pinkerton, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy who is visiting Japan. She gives him her heart in what is for him a marriage of convenience. He soon leaves, but she believes his promise to return, and is convinced he reciprocates her love and devotion. The opera ends tragically when Pinkerton comes back to Japan with his “real” American wife.
Butterfly is one of the world’s most popular operas for two very good reasons. First there is Puccini’s music, which is heart-rending in its beauty and emotional truth. The Act I duet between Cio-Cio-san and Pinkerton perfectly expresses the half-fearful, half-rapturous expression of young love. The famous aria “Un bel di vedremo (One fine day we shall see),” sung by Cio-Cio-san as she awaits her beloved’s return, is an emotional journey on which we share her fears, her resolve, and her joyous anticipation.
The opera also rings true as drama. Its unerring psychological insight brings Cio-cio-san vividly to life. We invest ourselves in her fate, and experience what she feels. Far from being the Western stereotype of submissive “Oriental” femininity, Butterfly emerges as a living, breathing woman trying to maintain her honor in a disastrous situation.
Madama Butterfly continues to move and enchant audiences of all nations and cultures. It is a universal and shattering work of art.
The Cast — TBA
THE STORY of the Opera
Time: late 19th/early 20th century. Place: Nagasaki, Japan. B.F. Pinkerton, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, is inspecting a house high on a hill that he is acquiring through Goro, a marriage broker and local Mr. Fix-it. Goro has arranged for Pinkerton to take the charming geisha Butterfly (Cio-cio-san) as a wife of convenience until he can marry a properly American woman. Goro introduces three servants, including Butterfly’s personal servant Suzuki, who addresses Pinkerton in flowery phrases. Goro then describes the people who will be present at the signing of the marriage contract: two dozen relatives of Butterfly; the American consul; Japanese officials; and of course Butterfly herself.
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Sharpless, the American consul, arrives for the ceremony, and the lieutenant tells him how an American seafarer may freely roam the world making conquests on his own terms. Sharpless remarks that this convenient philosophy comes at a price for someone. Goro bustles in again and offers to find the consul a bride too, an offer which he declines. The consul then warns Pinkerton not to take this marriage lightly, but the lieutenant is so enchanted with Butterfly’s fragile beauty that he is determined to have her. When Sharpless warns he may bring sorrow to a trusting and innocent heart, Pinkerton responds by proposing a toast to his future American wife.
Butterfly and her companions enter. She answers questions about her family, skirting around the topic of her father, then reveals to their astonishment that she is only 15 years old. The guests arrive and Goro takes charge. Her relatives chatter about the marriage and the handsome American groom. In an aside to Pinkerton, Butterfly asks if she can keep some of her treasures. Among them is a knife that Goro explains was sent to her father by the Emperor for killing himself in a ritual act of hara-kiri. Butterfly also discards figurines representing her ancestors, explaining that she is so excited to marry an American that she has secretly converted to Christianity.
After the wedding ceremony, her uninvited uncle the Bonze (a Buddhist monk), who has found out about her conversion, comes to the house, curses her, and orders the guests to leave. They renounce her as they do so. Pinkerton comforts Butterfly; they sing a love duet and prepare to spend their first night together.
Time: Three years later. Place: The house. Pinkerton is gone, having left soon after the wedding. He promised to return when the robins nest in spring, but three springs have passed. The household is desperately short of money. Butterfly has given birth to his son, and faithfully awaits her husband’s return, though her servant Suzuki asserts he is not coming back. In the famous aria “Un bel di” Butterfly describes the joy she will feel when Pinkerton returns.
Goro arrives with Sharpless, who has received a letter from Pinkerton saying he is returning to Japan with an American wife, and his marriage to Butterfly is over. Before Sharpless can read it to Butterfly, Prince Yamadori arrives to pay suit to her. Goro, having heard Pinkerton has abandoned her, is trying to arrange another marriage. She fends off the Prince by saying that abandonment is grounds for divorce in Japan, but not in America. After Goro and Yamadori leave, Sharpless tells her of Pinkerton’s letter. She shows him her baby and asks him to tell her husband that this beautiful child awaits his arrival. Surely that will bring him back. The baby’s name is Sorrow, she says, but when Pinkerton returns it shall be Joy.
From the house on the hill Butterfly sees Pinkerton’s ship sail into the harbor below. She and Suzuki decorate the house for his expected visit, and prepare to greet him. Suzuki and the child fall asleep, but Butterfly stays up all night.
Suzuki wakes up in the morning and Butterfly retires to her room to rest. Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive at the house, along with Pinkerton’s American wife Kate. They have come because Kate has agreed to raise the child. Suzuki receives them. But when 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 cannot face her, leaving Suzuki, Sharpless, and Kate to break the news. As Suzuki and Kate enter from the garden, Butterfly appears, looking for Pinkerton. Kate begs her forgiveness. Agreeing to give up her child if Pinkerton himself comes 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 to cut her throat with her father’s hara-kiri knife. She wraps a veil around her neck and goes to the child, collapsing at his feet. Pinkerton rushes in, but he is too late, and Butterfly dies.
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Hear “Un Bel Di Vedremo” from Madama Butterfly, sung by Ying Huang
Credit: Grato Films & Idéale Audience