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“Madama Butterfly” by Giacomo Puccini at Seattle Opera

Posted by glennled on May 31, 2012

Cio-Cio-San

“No more Puccini!” I told my wife after the Seattle Opera’s performance of Madama Butterfly at McCaw Hall on 20 May. “He’s just too powerful. He gets too close, the way he writes about romantic love. The music just rips your heart. It’s too much.” In the back of my mind was the memory of a very similar feeling when we attended Puccini’s La Boheme in 2007 (see http://www.seattleopera.org/discover/archive/production.aspx?productionID=44).

The final version of Madama Butterfly premiered in Paris, France on 28 December 1906—106 years ago—and premiered by Seattle Opera on 15 March 1966. It now ranks #8 in the Operabase list of most-performed operas worldwide (see http://operabase.com/top.cgi?lang=en&). People have always liked beautiful tragedies.

My wife and I talked over Madama Butterfly as we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the Modello Italian Restaurant in Magnolia (see www.mondelloristorante.com). The whole event was my birthday gift to her.

The story occurs in Nagasaki, Japan at the turn of the 20th century. Madama Butterfly is also known in the opera as Cio-Cio-San. When she “weds” B.F. Pinkerton, an American naval lieutenant, and converts to his religion, she is renounced and abandoned by her family.  She is a geisha and comes with the house he leases, but he has the option to cancel the whole arrangement on a month’s notice. His long-term plan is to take an American wife. Meanwhile, he enjoys bliss with Butterfly.

“Throughout the first Act,” I told my wife at dinner while sipping my Sangiovese, “I was thinking, ‘Cad! Cad!'”

Eventually, his ship departs, and he has the American consulate continue paying the rent. Three years later, Cio-Cio-San is running out of money. She spurns a marriage proposal from a wealthy Japanese man, certain of Pinkerton’s love and eventual return. Sure enough, his ship again sails into Nagasaki, but he has brought his American wife. He then learns that his Butterfly bore him a son. His American wife offers to raise the son as their own. Pinkerton is overcome by remorse and is unable to confront Cio-Cio-San. She gives up her son and commits jigai, the ritual suicide for  Japanese women which is performed by plunging a knife into the neck.

“Early in the third Act,” I told my wife, “I was thinking, ‘Coward! Coward!'” Later, Pinkerton even calls himself that. Puccini is just too much. The pathos is extraordinary. So—aaarrrgghhh!—yes, we’ll probably go again to another of his operas. But his heroines always seem to die in tragedy. “He who has lived for love, has died for love.”—from Il tabaro (The Cloak), 1918.

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini, 1858-1924

Hmmm…today, I received a mailer showing that in August, the Seattle Opera will perform Puccini’s Turandot. Isn’t the fabulous, soaring tenor aria, “Nessun dorma” (“None Shall Sleep”), from that opera? I looked it up. Yes. And the Turandot orchestration calls for three trumpets in F and six onstage trumpets in B-Flat—how can I miss that? I am the moth drawn to the flame. In “Nessun dorma,” once again, Puccini makes one’s heart ache and eyes brim. Just watch and listen to Pavoritti sing this aria: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTFUM4Uh_6Y&feature=related.

Seattle performance photos are by Elise Bakketun, courtesy of the Seattle Opera. Please click on any photo to enlarge it.

2 Responses to ““Madama Butterfly” by Giacomo Puccini at Seattle Opera”

  1. Nancy said

    Do we have our tickets yet?????

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