Special Sub-Topic: Puccini's "Madama Butterfly"
|Puccini's opera is the second operatic treatment of this story, the first version having been by a French composer who was a contemporary of Puccini.|
t. "Madama Butterfly" was adapted from a play by David Belasco, which in turn was adapted from a short story by John Luther Long, which in turn was adapted from a novel by French author Pierre Loti, which in it's turn was said to have been inspired by a true story (whew!). Loti's novel, "Madame Chrysantheme", was adapted as an opera by French composer Andre Messager (1853-1929), making Puccini's version the second operatic treatment of the story. There are many differences in the Giacosa/Illica libretto from the earlier versions of the story.
|The premiere of "Madama Butterfly" in 1904 coincided with what momentous event in Puccini's life?|
He finally married his longtime mistress, Elvira Gemignani. Elvira had left her husband for Puccini in 1885 and, the following year, had born him a son, Antonio. Because of Italy's stringent marriage laws, Elvira's could not obtain a divorce, and thus could not marry Puccini. With her husband's death in 1904, she and Puccini could finally legalise their union and their son could be recognized as legitimate. The premiere of "Butterfly" marked the first time Elvira and Antonio had accompanied him to one of his premieres; therefore, the fiasco which ensued was particularly embittering to him.
|The La Scala premiere was a resounding fiasco, engineered largely by factions vehemently hostile to the composer and his close friend, conductor Arturo Toscanini. Toscanini had angered the La Scala audience at the last performance of the previous season (Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera") by refusing to allow one ensemble to be encored. Which of the following statements is NOT true of the disastrous premiere?|
The conductor, Toscanini, angrily walked out after the first act. Toscanini did not conduct the premiere of "Butterfly", nor was he present, having angrily left after the "Ballo" contretemps. The audience vented its hostility on Mme. Storchio, known to be his mistress- and to be carrying his child (at one point, cries of "Butterfly is pregnant!", "Yes, with Toscanini's child" were heard). After the debacle, the composer withdrew the opera and, over the protests of the house management, returned their fee for the production rights. After reworking the score and re-dividing the work into three acts, he presented the work again at Brescia in May of 1904, a few months after the original premiere, to great success.
|Where in Japan does the opera take place?|
Nagasaki. It is truly ironic that, decades before World War II, the ill-fated city of Nagasaki would be chosen as the setting for this story of an American-Japanese cultural clash with tragic consequences.
|What do the two Americans, Pinkerton and Sharpless, drink in Act I?|
Whiskey. Pinkerton offers Sharpless a choice of "Milk punch o' whiskey?" (milk punch being, presumably, a Japanese refreshment). Sharpless opts for whiskey, as does Pinkerton.
|To what happy prospect does Pinkerton propose a toast just before Butterfly's entrance?|
To the day he gets married "for real" to an American woman. Pinkerton regards the marriage to Butterfly as a lark, and intends one day to get married "for real" ("con vera nozze") to an American girl. He does not consider the consequences of his inevitable eventual abandonment of Butterfly, who clearly regards the marriage with great seriousness, even to the point of converting to Christianity from Buddhism.
|What device does Puccini use for Butterfly's entrance, which he had also used for Mimi and Tosca?|
She is first heard singing offstage. Mimi, in "La Boheme", is first heard outside Rodolfo's door timidly asking to be let in to light her candle. Tosca is first heard calling impatiently for Mario outside the locked door of the church where he is painting. In Butterfly's case, she sings much of her first aria, "Spira sul Mare", offstage as she ascends the hill with her female companions. Puccini would use this device yet again in 1918 with "Suor Angelica".
|How old is Butterfly at the beginning of the opera?|
Fifteen. When asked how old she is by Sharpless, Butterfly playfully asks him to guess. When he says thirteen, she tells him to go up a little. When he guesses eighteen, she tells him now to come down. She then reveals that she is fifteen, comically lamenting that she is already an old woman.
|Butterfly brings some personal items for her new home. From where does she produce them?|
Her sleeve. This is specified in the libretto, though in Hal Prince's Kabuki-inspired production at the Chicago Lyric Opera in the late eighties, they were brought in on a basket.
|At one point, Butterfly steps out of character and refuses to allow Pinkerton to see one of her belongings. Which one is it?|
The sword with which her father had comitted hara-kiri. Butterfly departs from her otherwise complete subservience to Pinkerton by refusing, with apologies, to let him see the ceremonial sword belonging to her father, which she refers to cryptically only as "Cosa sacra a mia." ("Something sacred to me"). Goro pulls Pinkerton aside and explains that it was presented to her father by the Mikado- with a "request", which her father then fulfilled.
|What does Butterfly do before the first act love duet that startles Pinkerton?|
She kisses his hands. She explains that she had heard that in the West, kissing someone's hand is considered a gesture of extreme respect.
|In the famous aria "Un Bel Di", what are the names Butterfly imagines Pinkerton will call her when he returns?|
"Piccina moglientina, olezzo di verbena". In English, these mean "Tiny little wife, essence of verbena". These are "the names he gave me when he first came" ("I nomi che mi dava al suo venire"). It is worth noting that only the Japanese characters call Butterfly by her Japanese name- Cio Cio San. To the Americans, she is always Butterfly.
|Butterfly mocks the wealthy Prince Yamadori, whom Goro is urging her to marry. What makes her especially contemptous of him?|
He has been divorced many times. Although Butterfly is incredibly naive regarding Pinkerton, she seems to have no illusions at all about the much-married Yamadori. She responds to his ardent declarations of love by reminding him of how many other women he has divorced, and tells him that in her country, the United States (for so she now regards it), wives are not so easily discarded.
|Butterfly shows Sharpless her child by Pinkerton, whom she says will be named Gioia (Joy) upon his father's return. What is the child's current name?|
Dolore ("Sorrow" or "Trouble"). "Dolore" is usually translated in the libretto as "trouble", though it also means "sorrow". To me, "Sorrow" is the better translation; the other seems to suggest that the child is a handful.
|After Sharpless' departure, there ensues a terrible scene with Goro which culminates in Butterfly's driving him from the house with a drawn sword. What has Goro been caught doing?|
He has been heard saying that, in America, her child would be an outcast.. After Sharpless' departure, Suzuki angrily drags Goro in and indignantly tells Butterfly that he has been telling people that the child's father is unknown. Goro protests that he had only said that in America, a child born under these circumstances would be an outcast. This, however, is sufficiently infuriating to Butterfly; she calls him a liar and, drawing her father's sword (the handiest weapon available) pursues him until she is stopped by a horrified Suzuki.
|Pinkerton's ship is finally seen in the harbor. What is the name of the ship?|
the "Abraham Lincoln". Butterfly is beside herself with joy and triumph at this point.
|In the famous "Flower Duet", Butterfly and Suzuki strew blossoms from the garden throughout the house. What kind of blossoms?|
Cherry. The garden is planted with many cherry trees. After Pinkerton's ship is seen, Butterfly tells Suzuki "Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio, e m'inonda di fior" ("Strip the branches of the cherry trees, and cover me with flowers"), arguably the most beautiful line in the opera.
|Acts two and three were originally (and at times still are today) performed without an intermission.|
t. After the premiere, Puccini decided that the final act was too long and divided it into two acts, ending Act II with the "Humming chorus" and beginning Act III with the "Waiting music". Some more recent productions, however, have successfully utilized Puccini's original idea; it makes for a shorter evening on the whole.
|Which minor role was much more expanded in the original version of the opera?|
Kate Pinkerton. In the final scene, as originally written, there is a fairly lengthy dialogue between Butterfly and Kate Pinkerton, the American wife. It is Kate, in this version, who sings the line "Ah, triste madre" remarking on the sorrow of Butterfly's having to abandon her child (this is sung by Butterfly in the later version). It is Sharpless, in the original, who asks Butterfly for the child. I have never seen or heard this version, but it was performed at the NYC Opera in the early nineties. The general critical consensus was that it was quite devastating and, possibly, superior to the later version.
|In the aria "Tu, Tu Piccolo Iddio", sung to the child before she commits suicide, what does Butterfly ask him to do? |
Look carefully at her face so that he will remember it. She sings "Guarda ben, fiso, fiso di tua madre la faccia che t'en reste una traccia." ("Look well, fix your eyes on your mother's face, so that some trace may remain in your memory").
Did you find these entries particularly interesting, or do you have comments / corrections to make? Let the author know!
Send the author a thank you or
Submit a correction