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MADAMA BUTTERFLY (1901 - 1904)

Land Of PucciniLibrettists, Giuseppe Giacosa, Luigi Illica
Madama Butterfly (1901 - 1904)

Background: In 1900, Giacomo Puccini was in London for the first English Tosca, when he saw at the Duke of York's Theatre a play by David Belasco based on John Luther Long's short story, Madama Butterfly. Public interest in things oriental was high, and Puccini's interest was piqued even although he did not have a good grasp of the English language; but he was impressed with the strength of the title character, and indicated his interest to Ricordi later that year. Although the publisher did not share Puccini's enthusiasm for the subject, he entered into negotiations for the rights while Puccini finished working on his new home at Torre del Lago. When Verdi died at the beginning of 1901, Puccini was hailed as his successor, although he himself was much too modest a man to be able to agree. As he and Illica began work on the libretto, Puccini immersed himself in the study of Japanese music, enlisting the aid of the wife of the Japanese ambassador in Rome , Madame Hisako Omaya, to help him. She gave him recordings and some sheet music, some of which he used in the opera. He also began a collection of Japanese works of art, and forged friendships with other Japanese singers and artists of the day. Throughout 1901, the three, Puccini, Illica and Giacosa worked on the new opera, against all odds, since each had complained so bitterly about the others during the work in progress spanning the previous six years of the previous two operas. The creation of Madama Butterfly was to prove to be no different, and progress in 1902 was marred by the usual arguments, misunderstandings, requests for revision of the libretto, all of which led to heated exchanges between them. Early in 1903, work came to a complete halt when Puccini was badly injured in a car accident. He took several months to recover, spending part of the summer of that year in Abetone Boscolungo, high above the alluvial plains of Lake Massaciuccoli , in a little villa he loved for its tranquility. He continued to work there on an upright piano he had delivered to the villa for that purpose. At the end of the summer, his health had improved and he returned to Torre del Lago to continue there. The first premiere of Madama Butterfly took place on February 17, 1904, at Milan 's La Scala. However , Puccini saw that some of the earlier protestations of his librettists may have been valid, as the first performance did not go well and the reviews were mixed. The following day, Puccini and Ricordi withdrew the score from the theatre management, and asked that the remaining performances be cancelled. The composer went back to the drawing board with Giacosa, and made extensive revisions. The second premiere of Madama Butterfly , the opera as we know it today, was given at Brescia at Teatro Grande on May 28, 1904.

Synopsis: Pinkerton, an American naval officer stationed in Nagasaki , has arranged through a marriage broker to marry a fifteen year old geisha, Butterfly. Although he is captivated by her, Pinkerton does not take the marriage seriously, and the Consul warns him against the union, indicating that Butterfly is very serious about her marriage to him. When the ceremony is over, Butterfly's uncle denounces her for abandoning her faith and embracing the Christian god. Her family desert her, but she is placated by her new husband's tender attentions. Three years pass, and Pinkerton has been gone since soon after his 'wedding.' Butterfly waits patiently for his return, despite the fact that her faithful maid, Suzuki, warns her that he will never come back. The Consul arrives with a letter from Pinkerton, but before he can tell her of its contents-that Pinkerton is returning with his 'real' wife, an American-Butterfly reveals that she has had a son by the officer. The Consul leaves without delivering Pinkerton's message, and Butterfly continues to wait in hope. Cannon fire in the harbor announces the arrival of a ship, and through a telescope, Butterfly can tell it is Pinkerton's. She and Suzuki decorate the house with cherry blossoms as they await Pinkerton's arrival. Dawn arrives, and Butterfly is exhausted from waiting up all night. Suzuki sends her to go and rest, and while she is gone, Pinkerton and Sharpless arrive. Pinkerton's new wife, Kate, waits quietly in the garden as the men try to enlist Suzuki's help in getting Butterfly to hand over the child. Pinkerton leaves, overcome with emotion that the memories of the house invoke in him: he decides not to see Butterfly and departs. Butterfly enters and realizes the awful truth: the woman in the garden in Pinkerton's wife and wants to take her child. Butterfly instructs her to tell Pinkerton to return for his son in half an hour. Kate and the Consul leave to give the officer this message, and Butterfly prepares herself for what will be her final act: to take her own life. But the arrival of the child, whom Suzuki has sent into the room, momentarily restrains her. She blindfolds the child and withdraws behind a screen with her father's sword with which she plans to meet her end. As she commits hari-kiri, Pinkerton rushes in calling her name, but too late: Butterfly falls dead to the ground.

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