Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini

“Madama Butterfly” is an opera in three acts - although they were originally two - by Giacomo Puccini, with a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. In the score and in the libretto the opera is called “Japanese tragedy” and it was dedicated to the queen of Italy Elena Montenegro.


The opera’s first performance took place at La Scala theatre in Milan, on the 17 th of February 1904, during Lent and Carnival season. Puccini’s work was careful and meticulous: in order to describe Japanese customary practices and traditions, he was helped by the famous Japanese actress Sara Yacco and the Japanese ambassador’s wife. He met her in Italy and they had long conversations about Japan and its cultural traditions.


The first performance of “Madama Butterfly” at La Scala was a complete disaster. It is difficult to establish the reasons behind this failure, especially because the following performance, in Brescia, was quite successful, even though it resembled almost completely the first one in Milan. The most plausible theories developed by scholars argue that a climate of hostility had been created around the opera and its author, but it was then completely wiped out by the actual value of the opera.


However, despite the undiscussed value of the opera, Puccini was really struck by this first fiasco and so he accurately reviewed the opera, making it quicker and more proportionate. The following performances were a complete success. The plot focuses on the love story between a Japanese woman and an American sailor. However, their love will eventually end up in tragedy. The two get married, but the woman is abandoned by her husband and, when he returns home with another wife, she surrenders to her sad fate and commits suicide, leaving her child to her husband and his new wife.


Here are some fun facts about the opera. Even though Puccini researched a lot the history of Japan, he completely disrupted the traditional customary practices of the geisha, giving this role to the female lead, who is way too young to have already undertaken the ceremony of the “erikae”. Moreover, the national anthem of the United States of America, which appears several times throughout the opera, at the time was still the anthem of the US Marines. It will then become the official national anthem in 1931.

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