The title character of Madame Butterfly – a young geisha who clings to the belief that her arrangement with a visiting American naval officer is a loving and permanent marriage – is one of the defining roles in opera. The lyric beauty of Puccini’s score has made Butterfly timeless. Experience lavish sets and costumes and gorgeous music provided by guest soloists, the CSO orchestra, and CSO Chorus.Bios & Photos of Cast & Crew
On a terrace above Nagasaki Harbor, U.S. Navy Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton inspects the house he has leased from a marriage broker, Goro, who has procured him three servants and a geisha wife known as Butterfly (Cio-Cio San). To the American Consul, Sharpless, who arrives breathless from climbing the hill, Pinkerton describes his carefree philosophy of a navy man roaming the world in search of pleasure. For the moment, he is enchanted with the fragile Cio-Cio San and intends to undergo a marriage ceremony with her – for ninety-nine years, but subject to monthly renewal. When Sharpless warns that the girl may not take her vows so lightly, the Lieutenant brushes aside such scruples, adding that he will one day take a “real” American wife. At that moment Cio-Cio San is heard in the distance joyously singing of her wedding day. After she has entered, surrounded by her friends, she tells Pinkerton how, when her family fell on hard times, she had to earn her living as a geisha. Soon her relatives arrive and noisily express their opinions on the marriage. When she finds a quiet moment, Cio-Cio San shows her bridegroom her few earthly treasures, telling him her intention of embracing his Christian faith. With much pomp the Imperial Commissioner performs the wedding ceremony, after which the guests toast the couple. Suddenly Cio-Cio San’s uncle, the Bonze, a Shinto priest, bursts upon the scene, cursing the girl for having renounced her ancestors’ religion. Pinkerton angrily orders the priest to leave. Alone with his bride, he dries her tears and reminds her that night is falling. Cio-Cio San joins the ardent Pinkerton in a declaration of their love.
Three years later, Cio-Cio San still waits for her husband’s return, as Suzuki prays to her gods for aid. Suzuki shows Cio-Cio San how little money is left but is told to have faith, that one fine day Pinkerton’s ship will appear on the horizon. Sharpless arrives with a letter from the Lieutenant, but before he can read it to Cio-Cio San, Goro, who has been lurking outside, brings in the latest of a long line of suitors for her hand. The girl dismisses the wealthy Prince Yamadori, insisting that her American husband has not deserted her. When they are alone, Sharpless again starts to read her the letter and suggests as tactfully as he can that Pinkerton may never return. Cio-Cio San proudly introduces a child, insisting that as soon as Pinkerton knows of his son, he will surely come back. Moved by her devotion and lacking the heart to tell her of the Lieutenant’s remarriage, Sharpless leaves. Cio-Cio San, on the point of despair, hears a cannon report; seizing a telescope, she discovers Pinkerton’s ship entering the harbor. Delirious with joy, she orders Suzuki to help her strew the house with flowers. Then, as night falls, she begins her vigil.
As dawn breaks, Suzuki insists that Cio-Cio San rest. Humming a lullaby to her child, she carries him to another room. Before long, Sharpless, Pinkerton, and then Kate, his new wife, enter. When Suzuki realizes who the American woman is, she collapses in despair; out of consideration for her mistress, however, she agrees to aid in breaking the news to her. Pinkerton, overcome with remorse, bids an anguished farewell to the scene of his former happiness, then rushes away. No sooner is he gone than Cio-Cio San comes out, expecting to find him but finding Kate instead. She takes but a moment to guess the truth. Leaning on Suzuki for support, she agrees to give up her child if the father will return for him. Then, sending Suzuki away, she brings forth the dagger with which her father committed suicide. Just as she raises the blade, Suzuki pushes the child into the room. In a stirring farewell to him, Cio-Cio San sends him off to play. She then stabs herself as Pinkerton’s voice is heard calling her name.
By Tom Wolfe, edited by CSO
Helena Binder, Stage Director
Underlying theme is a collision of cultures; the incompatibility of East and West, and the white race’s arrogant superiority.
Western civilization considered the Far East legendary and romantic. It was a time when they were gradually being brought into contact with the east through commerce and colonial expansion. The latter part of the 19th century and early 20th, were periods of intense colonialism in Asia by American and European powers. In 1898, America declared the Open Door Policy, a doctrine of equal opportunity intended to serve as an excuse to rape China.
The Japanese also sought resources in China to fuel their newly industrialized economy. Japanese felt racially superior to the Chinese, so they felt aligned with the U.S., Britain, France and Germany in the exploitation of China. At the end of the 19th century, Japan lowered it’s barriers to the West and in this spirit of alliance allowed an American naval presence in Japan. The American warship, Abraham Lincoln, was probably assigned to intelligence surveillance of the Chinese coast. The port of Nagasaki would have been made available the Americans for rendezvous and fueling.
The period of Butterfly was during the Meiji dynasty (1868-1912). Japan had been secluded for centuries but became obsessed with modernizing and building their economy and military. In this effort they embraced everything Western; trains, clothes, haircuts, literature.
To further encourage friendship with America and the European allies, the Japanese allowed foreigners to avail themselves of Japanese women by providing the same legal rights accorded Japanese men; they could enter into temporary marriages with Japanese women with the arrangement that the marriage could be terminated on the expiration of the “husband’s” leave. The wife, of course, was bound for life.
In this era of Japanese history, Japan was a theocracy in which the state and religion are united. The Bonze’s curse, therefore, is not just a religious denouncement but a social one as well. In Japanese culture, ancestors, living and dead, are the sole link to eternal life.
Butterfly arrives at her wedding having already suffered two tragic events that have forced her to become a geisha. First, her family’s home and property were destroyed, probably by a tsunami, and second, her father sided with the emperor in subduing a rebellion, but failed in his assigned mission. To preserve his honor, he committed hara-kiri. In Long’s original story, Butterfly’s mother orders her to marry Pinkerton so that she can contribute money and food to her family.
So Butterfly’s marriage to an American naval officer provides her with status and security. She climbs the social ladder, as she climbs the hill to her wedding. She is now a lady and not obligated to work as a geisha.
Dovunque al mondo (“Throughout the world”) As the orchestra plays the opening flourish to “The Star-Spangled Banner” (a musical theme which will characterize Pinkerton throughout the opera), Pinkerton tells Sharpless that, throughout the world, the Yankee wanderer is not satisfied until he captures the flowers of every shore and the love of every beautiful woman. “So I am marrying in the Japanese style: for 999 years, but with the right to cancel the marriage each month”. Sharpless is critical of Pinkerton’s beliefs, but they stand and agree, “America forever”. Pinkerton tells Goro to bring Butterfly to him.
Bimba, Bimba, non piangere (“Sweetheart, sweetheart, do not weep”). (This begins the famous long love duet, which ends act 1.) Pinkerton tells Butterfly that “All your relatives and all the priests in Japan are not worth the tears from your loving, beautiful eyes.” Butterfly smiles through her tears, “You mean that? I won’t cry any more. And I do not worry about their curses, because your words sound so sweet.” They hear Suzuki offstage, saying her evening prayers.
Un bel dì vedremo (“One fine day we’ll see”). In this, the opera’s most famous aria (and one of the most popular works in the soprano repertoire), Butterfly says that, “one fine day”, they will see a puff of smoke on the far horizon. Then a ship will appear and enter the harbor. She will not go down to meet him but will wait on the hill for him to come. After a long time, she will see in the far distance a man beginning the walk out of the city and up the hill. When he arrives, he will call “Butterfly” from a distance, but she will not answer, partly for fun and partly not to die from the excitement of the first meeting.
Coro a bocca chiusa (“Humming Chorus”). As the off-stage chorus hums a wordless, melancholy tune, Butterfly, her child and Suzuki begin the long wait for Pinkerton to come. Night falls. Suzuki and the baby are soon asleep, but Butterfly keeps her vigil.
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Production Style of 2005 performance
from letter to cast from 2005 Executive Director John Werhle
“Our director, Helena Binder, did wonderful work for the CSO on Die Zauberflöte, and is building an impressive list of directing credentials around the country. Among the things I like about her work is really good insight into relationships, and so much of this piece is about how Cio-Cio San relates to the different people in her world. It is exciting that she is back for Butterfly.
While this production will not veer far from the tradition our growing audience expects, we have tried to do a few things differently. Because relationships are so central to Butterfly, the story has always seemed to me to ride a wave of Japanese style but not to be Japanese. It is a universal and intimate story of illusion and abuse of trust, set in a context of debilitating poverty and oppressive social custom. The set is rented from Chautauqua Opera and instead of the traditional “bridge and house” offers a more neutral (meaning less clichéd), bleak and haunting look; Helena and I liked the simplicity, openness, and beautiful natural wood hue of this set, and feel that it’s minimalism will help keep focus on the relationships between characters. Costumes, probably the most traditional aspect of our production, are from Tri-Cities Opera.”