Madama Butterfly

Madama Butterfly October, 2015

A heartbreaking love story. A tragic betrayal! An American naval officer marries a young Japanese girl for convenience. He leaves her while she faithfully awaits his return.   Set in 1902  Japan, Giacomo Puccini’s devastating saga of devotion, tradition and sacrifice is among the most beloved operas of all time and is a perfect choice for introducing new people to opera.  It is sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Puccini’s Inspirations for Madama Butterfly

Puccini got the idea and inspiration for Madama Butterfly in 1900 when he was in London preparing for the British premier of Tosca.  He saw a one-act play called Madama Butterfly written by the well-known American playwright David Belasco.   The play was based on a magazine article by Philadelphia lawyer John Long who claimed that his sister related the story to him based on personal experience.  Puccini was moved by Belasco’s drama and upon his return to Italy, he immediately got to work on the opera with his librettists, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (both of whom he had worked with on La Boheme and Tosca). The wife of Japan’s ambassador to Italy assisted Puccini by familiarizing him with native Japanese songs.  Madama Butterfly premiered at La Scala in Milan, Italy on February 17, 1904.  It was hissed, jeered and booed!  Puccini withdrew the score after that performance and made some modifications.  It was presented in Brescia on May 28, 1904 with rousing success and has since been viewed as a masterpiece.

Orientalism, and in fact Exoticism in general, was highly popular from the mid 19th century onwards but few Westerners actually knew much about the real Asia. While Puccini’s drama may not always accurately depict Japanese culture at the beginning of the 20th century, it is harder to criticize the verisimilitude of the musical score. In fact Puccini incorporated many traditional Japanese songs into Madama Butterfly. One possible source for these tunes is the Austrian Rudolf Dittrich, who taught in Japan in the late 1800s and published piano scores of popular Japanese songs after returning to Europe. Strong similarities in melody appear in “Jizuki-Uta,” a Japanese work song from the Dittrich arrangement and in Butterfly’s aria “Che tua ma.”

Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil were fans of Madama Butterfly and drew their inspiration from this opera.  Their musical Miss Saigon is directly based on Madama Butterfly and “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables lot like the “Humming Chorus.”

– Website Source:  The Opera 101


Director’s Insights for Madama Butterfly

Brad Dalton, 8/4/15

MADAMA BUTTERFLY is a staple of opera houses worldwide for good reason: who can remain unmoved as they witness a young woman’s insistence that the love she has experienced is everlasting? As audience members, we want to lift Madame Butterfly right off the stage and into our arms to protect her from the cruelty of the world she lives in. We wish that her dreams of love were real. Why does this resonate so much with audiences? I think that we live in a world which illustrates to us daily that perhaps the most basic human emotion is hatred, not love, as much as we wish it were not so. We are all Cio-Cio Sans, wanting the world to be something other than what it is.

Although this sounds harsh, consider the American soldier B.F. Pinkerton, carelessly and selfishly creating a web of lies to satisfy his desire to be a man who conquers the world. Only too late does he realize that his empire-making fantasy of “having a woman in every port” has destroyed an innocent woman’s life. For this production, I wanted to take a minimalist approach to the art and culture of Japan. The space in Act One gradually opens up wider and wider until the night of love between Cio-Cio San and her Pinkerton grows into a wide-open empty space, filled the night sky and a sea of stars. In Acts Two and Three, I wanted Cio-Cio San’s house to look very bare and isolated, as if Butterfly and Suzuki were cut off from the rest of the world. Here, they struggle to survive together and Butterfly desperately waits for the return of her Pinkerton “in the season when the robins make their nests.” At the very end of the opera, I did not want Pinkerton to get off easily. I created an idea of the nightmare he and his entire family would carry with them for the rest of their lives. The tragedy does not end when the curtain falls.

Madama Butterfly Cast

Stage Director: Brad Dalton
Cio-Cio San: Marie Plette
Pinkerton: Alex Boyer
Sharpless: Philip Skinner
Suzuki: Michele Detwiler
Goro: Mason Gates Neipp

BRAD DALTON is a graduate of Harvard University and the National Shakespeare Conservatory. He has directed at the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Carnegie Hall, San Francisco Opera, the Barbican in London, Washington Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, San Diego Opera, Santa Barbara Opera, Opera Boston, Opera Grand Rapids and the State Opera of South Australia where, in 2003, he won the prestigious Helpmann Award for “Best Director of an Opera” in Australia for his direction of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man WalkingHe has created new productions of

  • Rigoletto
  • Tosca
  • Alceste
  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • The Magic Flute
  • Cosi Fan Tutte
  • Idomeno
  • Il Trovatore
  • Madama Butterfly
  • Anna Karenina
  • La Clemenza di Tito
  • Faust
  • Albert Herring.

Brad’s staging of A Streetcar Named Desire(starring Renee Fleming) was presented at Carnegie Hall and Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2013 and at the Los Angeles Opera in May 2014.