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Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Puccini's tragic opera Madama Butterfly, with Kristine Opolais in the title role and Roberto Alagna as Pinkerton.

Puccini: Madama Butterfly

Presented by Mary Jo Heath, with commentator Ira Siff

Cio-Cio-San, or Butterfly to her friends, the young Japanese Geisha and bride of the dashing American officer Pinkerton, finds her romantic dream is shattered when he deserts her soon after their marriage. She lives in hope that one day he will return; and so he does three years later, with his American wife Kate, and devastating consequences for Butterfly. Kristine Opolais stars as the tragic Butterfly, opposite tenor Roberto Alagna as Pinkerton who breaks her heart.

Cio-Cio San (Madama Butterfly) ..... Kristine Opolais (soprano)
Pinkerton ..... Roberto Alagna (tenor)
Suzuki ..... Maria Zifchak (mezzo-soprano)
Sharpless ..... Dwayne Croft (baritone)
Goro ..... Toby Stevenson (tenor)
The Bonze ...... Ricardo Lugo (bass)
Cio-Cio's cousin ..... Patricia Steiner (mezzo-soprano)
Cio-Cio's mother ..... Belinda Oswald (soprano)
Uncle Yankuside ..... Craig Montgomery (tenor)
Cio-Cio's aunt ..... Jean Braham (contralto)
Imperial Commissioner ..... David Crawford (bass-baritone)
Registrar ...... Juhwan Lee (tenor)
Yamadori ..... Tyler Duncan (baritone)
Kate Pinkerton ...... Edyta Kulczak (mezzo-soprano)

The Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera, New York
The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, New York
Karel Mark Chichon (conductor).

3 hours

Music Played

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams

    Oboe Concerto in A minor

    Performer: Nicholas Daniel. Orchestra: Britten Sinfonia.
    • HARMONIA MUNDI.
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams

    Fantasia on Greensleeves

    Orchestra: Britten Sinfonia. Conductor: Nicholas Cleobury.
    • Sony.

Synopsis

ACT I

Japan, early 20th century. Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton of the U.S. Navy inspects a house overlooking Nagasaki harbor that he is leasing from Goro, a marriage broker, who has also arranged his union with a young geisha named Cio-Cio-San, known as Madame Butterfly. The American consul Sharpless arrives for the wedding ceremony and Pinkerton describes to him his philosophy of the fearless Yankee roaming the world in search of experience and pleasure. He is not sure whether his feelings for the young girl are love or a whim, but he intends to go through with the wedding. Sharpless warns him that the girl may view the marriage more seriously, but Pinkerton brushes off his concerns and declares that someday he will take a real, American wife. Butterfly is heard climbing the hill with her friends. In casual conversation after the formal introduction, Butterfly admits her age, 15, and explains that her family was once prominent but lost its position, and she has had to earn her living as a geisha. Her relatives arrive and chatter about the marriage. Cio-Cio-San shows Pinkerton her few possessions and quietly tells him she has been to the Christian mission to convert to her husband’s religion. The Imperial Commissioner reads the marriage agreement, and the relatives congratulate the couple. Suddenly, a threatening voice is heard from afar—it is the Bonze, Butterfly’s uncle, a priest. He curses the girl for rejecting her ancestral religion. Pinkerton orders everyone to leave, and as they go the Bonze and the shocked relatives denounce Cio-Cio-San. Pinkerton tries to console Butterfly with sweet words. She is helped by Suzuki into her wedding kimono, and joins Pinkerton in the garden, where they make love.

 

ACT II—PART 1

Three years have passed, and Cio-Cio-San awaits her husband’s return. Suzuki prays for help, but Butterfly berates her for believing in Japanese gods rather than in Pinkerton’s promise to return one day. Sharpless appears with a letter from Pinkerton, but before he can read it to Butterfly, Goro arrives with the latest potential husband for Butterfly, the wealthy Prince Yamadori. Butterfly politely serves the guests tea but insists she is not available for marriage—her American husband has not deserted her. She dismisses Goro and Yamadori. Sharpless attempts to read Pinkerton’s letter but is repeatedly interrupted by Butterfly in her excitement to hear from her husband. Finally giving up, he asks her what she would do if Pinkerton never returned. The shocked Butterfly replies she would either become a geisha again, or better die. Sharpless, resigned, suggests that perhaps she should reconsider Yamadori’s offer. Butterfly is outraged and runs out, returning with her small son. Sharpless, too upset to tell her more of the letter’s contents, leaves, promising to tell Pinkerton of the child. A cannon shot is heard in the harbor announcing the arrival of a ship. Butterfly and Suzuki take a telescope to the terrace and read the name of Pinkerton’s ship. Overjoyed, Butterfly joins Suzuki in strewing the house with flowers. As night falls, Butterfly, Suzuki, and the child settle into a vigil watching over the harbor.

ACT II—PART 2

Dawn breaks, and Suzuki insists that Butterfly get some sleep. Butterfly carries the child into another room. Sharpless appears with Pinkerton and Kate, Pinkerton’s new wife. Suzuki realizes who the American woman is and agrees to help break the news to Butterfly. Pinkerton is overcome with guilt as he remembers his days in the house and runs from the scene. Cio-Cio-San rushes in hoping to find Pinkerton, but sees Kate instead. After a moment, she grasps the situation. Now left without hope, she agrees to give up the child but insists Pinkerton return for him. She dismisses everyone and takes out the dagger with which her father committed suicide, choosing to die with honor rather than live in shame. She is interrupted momentarily when her son comes running in. After saying an emotional goodbye she blindfolds the child. Then she stabs herself as Pinkerton is heard from outside calling her name.

- With thanks to the Metropolitan Opera House, New York

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