Madame Butterfly at Royal Danish Opera Old Stage – synopsis
Composer and librettist
Music: Giacomo Puccini| Lyrics:Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, after a play by Belasco.
First performance at Milano La Scala 17 februari 1904.Swedish première: Royal Opera in Stockholm, 21 augusti 1908.
Act One 1901. A hill above the city of Nagasaki.
Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton of the US Navy arrives with the marriage broker, Goro, at the house which he has rented for his stay in Japan. Goro introduces the maid Suzuki and the servants. He tells Pinkerton that the house contract can, like his forth-coming marriage to the geisha Madam Butterfly be ended at any convenient time. The American consul, Sharpless arrives. He admires the house and vieuw, but tries o dissuade Pinkerton from the proposed marriage. Pinkerton, however, is enchanted by his Japanese bride and refuses to listen. He concedes only that he will of course eventually marry a ‘proper’ American wife. Butterfly and her geisha friends climb the hill to the house. Pinkerton and Sharpless are both affected by her beauty and innocence. Sharpless discovers that she comes from a good family,but her father was disgraced, and forced to commit suicide. Sharpless also leams that the bride is only fifteen years old,but with the sudden arrival of the family and guests, the wedding begins.In private, Butterfly shows Pinkerton her few possessions, including her father´s ritual knife.Then she explains that in order to be a good American wife she has renounced her own religion and adopted Christianity. Pinkertons reaction is overtaken by the official weding ceremony. The couple sign the documents, and after Sharpless’ departure, Pinkerton proposes a toast to himself and Butterfly. Suddenly the gathering is interrupted by the arrival of Butterfly’s uncle, the Bonze a Japanese priest. He is outraged that she has repudiated the religion of her ancestors,and calls on everyone present to curse her. In the chaos which follows, Pinkerton clears the house,while Butterfly falls weeping to the ground.On his return, Pinkerton calms the anguished Butterfly with words of love. His tenderness reassures her, until she remembers that Westemers sometimes collect butterflies and impale them in cabinets. But Pinkerton’s love awakens her own passion for him, and after gazing together at the night sky full of stars, they retire to their bridal bedroom.
Act Two-first part Three years later.
In the three years since Pinkerton left Japan,Butterfly has lived in hope of his return.Suzuki tries to convince her that they have no money left, and must give up hope, Buttterfly’s faith remains unshaken. She joyfully imagines the scene of the ship appearing on the horizon, and Pinkerton’s return.Sharpless is accompanied to the house by Goro: he has received a letter from Pinkerton. But before he can explain its connents, the conversation is interrupted by a visit from Prince Yamadori. This rich japanese noble has been arranged by Goro as a new suitor for Butterfly. But, convinced that she is still ‘Mrs Pinkerton’, she imperiusly refuses to listen to his declarations of love. After Yamadori’s departure. Sharpless tries once again to convey the message of the letter: that Pinkerton has married an american wife, but Butterfly fails to understand. Finally, in frustration, Sharpless asks utterily directly what she would do if Pinkerton did not return. Only two things, she says: go back to being a geisha, or else, better, to die. Suddenly, in a righteous fury, she leaves the room and returns with a small child, Pinkerton’s son. Sharpless asks his name and Butterfly says that today his name is Dolore (Sorrow), but that when his father returns, the boy’s name will become Gioa (Joy). Sharpless promises to tell Pinkerton about his unknown son, and leaves. Suzuki attacks Goro for spreading malicious rumours about the child’s parentage. Butterfly is comforting the child when the sound of the harbour cannon is heard. A ship is arriving.The Abraham Lincoln. Pinkerton has returned! Overjoyed, Butterfly calls on Suzuki and the child to help decorate the house.Suzuki assists Butterfly in her make-up as she dresses once more as a bride. Butterfly, Suzuki and the child kneel down to await Pinkerton´s arrival, while a distant choral lullaby evokes the falling evening.
Act Two-Second Part
Butterfly, Suzuki and the child wait througout the night, but there is no sign of Pinkerton. As day breaks Suzuki offers to go on watching while Butterfly and the child go to sleep inside. Once Suzuki is alone.She is immediately disturbed by the arrival of Sharpless, Pinkerton, and a mysterous American woman. Sharpless explains that this is Kate, Pinkerton’s new wife,and that they would like to take the child back to America, to a better life. Suzuki eventually agrees to help. Pinkerton is filled with remorse for his previous conduct, and he laments the happy memories the house brings back to his mind. Overcome with self-disgust he flees. When Butterfly emerges, Pinkerton is nowhere to be seen.Suzuki reluctantly explains that he will not return, and Butterfly realises that the mysterious lady must be Pinkerton’s wife. Kate pleads with her to give up the child. Butterfly is appalled at the prospect of losing her son, but with calm resignation she agrees to hand him over to Pinkerton in person, if he returns in half an hour. Filled with misgivings, Kate and Sharpless depart. Butterfly dismisses her faithful servant Suzuki,and forbids her to remain. Alone at last, she prepares, as her father had done, for the only alternative: ‘Death with honour is better than life with dishonour’. Suddenly her child appears, and Butterfly says farewell to him before blindfolding him, as if in a game while the child plays. Butterfly returns to the knife, and plunges it into her body. Pinkerton calls desperately from the distance, bur arrives to find Butterfly dead.
John Lloyd Davies