in three acts written by Giacomo Puccini
, considered by many to be among the greatest operas ever written. It was based on a short story
by John Luther Long
that became a play in 1900
Puccini's first version of Madama Butterfly appeared in 1904, and was a complete failure. Puccini revised it and that version was successful later that same year. This is the version that we still hear today, and it is one of the most frequently produced operas in modern repetoire.
It tells the story of Cio Cio San, a 15 year old Japanese girl and her tragic romance with Pinkerton, a lieutenant in the US Navy. He takes her lightly, considering her more of a whore than a wife. She loves him with all her soul, even converting to Christianity and incurring the wrath of her relatives in an attempt to please him. He leaves her pregnant with a son, whom she names Sorrow. She awaits his return faithfully, only to be crushed when he returns, married to an American woman named Kate.
She gives her child an American Flag to play with, and commits suicide.
Butterfly's aria Un Bel Di is extremely popular. It's a pathetic, heartbreaking description of how she awaits the day when Pinkerton's ship will appear on the horizon and she will rush to meet him. The audience, of course, knows that Pinkerton is a flake and that Butterfly is only setting herself up for heartbreak.
One thing I find amusing in this opera: It is entirely about American
s and Japanese
, but they all sing in fluent Italian
. Situations like this happen in many operas, of course, but it never ceases to tickle my funny bone
. Nobody in the audience ever seems to mind it...