Madama Butterfly Study Guide Giacomo Puccini

Madama Butterfly
Giacomo Puccini
Study Guide
Pacific Opera Victoria, 1815 Blanshard Street, Suite 500, Victoria, BC V8T 5A4
Welcome to Pacific Opera Victoria!
This Study Guide has been created primarily to assist teachers in preparing students for
their visit to the opera. It is our hope that teachers will be able to add this to the
existing curriculum in order to expand students’ understanding of opera, literature,
history, and the fine arts.
Materials in the Study Guide may be copied and distributed to students. Some students
may wish to go over the information at home if there is not enough time to discuss in
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students have the opportunity to learn about the opera before they attend the
For more information about the history of opera, including a glossary of opera terms, please see other
Study Guides on the Pacific Opera Victoria web site at .
Teachers: Your comments and suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Please take a few minutes to
fill out the questionnaire at the end of this study guide.
Please Note: The Dress Rehearsal is the last opportunity the singers will have on stage to work with the
orchestra before Opening Night. Since vocal demands are so great on opera singers, some singers choose
not to sing in full voice during the Dress Rehearsal in order to preserve their voice for opening night.
Welcome to Pacific Opera Victoria! _____________________________________________ 1
Cast List _________________________________________________________________ 2
Message from the Artistic Director _____________________________________________ 3
Synopsis of the Opera ______________________________________________________ 4
From Verismo to Turandot – A Puccini Primer ____________________________________ 5
The Personality of Giacomo Puccini_____________________________________________ 6
From Tabloid to Opera: The Genesis of Butterfly’s Story ____________________________ 7
Butterfly’s Music: Giving a Voice to Hope ________________________________________ 8
Puccini and Japonisme ______________________________________________________ 11
Butterfly Stories ___________________________________________________________ 13
Japanese Phrases in the Libretto_______________________________________________ 15
About POV’s Production______________________________________________________ 16
Study Activities ____________________________________________________________ 17
Teacher’s Comments________________________________________________________ 22
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
Dress Rehearsal February 12, 2008
February 14, 16, 19, 21, 23, 2008, 8 pm
Royal Theatre, Victoria, BC
Music by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
First Performance La Scala, Milan, February 17, 1904
Sung in Italian with English surtitles
Cast in order of vocal appearance
Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton
Goro, a marriage broker
Sharpless, United States consul at Nagasaki
Madama Butterfly (Cio-Cio-San)
The Imperial Commissioner
The Registrar
The Bonze, Cio-Cio-San's uncle
Prince Yamadori
Kate Pinkerton
Trouble, Cio-Cio-San’s child
Kurt Lehmann
Eric Olsen
Michèle Losier
Bruce Kelly
Sally Dibblee
Stephen Barradell
Robyn Cathcart
Chad Louwerse
Peter McGillivray
Stacie Carmona
Trinity Startek
Lighting Designer
Resident Stage Manager
Assistant Stage Managers
Giuseppe Pietraroia
François Racine
Elli Bunton
Gerald King
Jackie Adamthwaite
Steve Barker
Connie Hosie
Michael Drislane
Chorus Master and Répétiteur
With the Victoria Symphony and the Pacific Opera Victoria Chorus
Cast and programme are subject to change.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
Message from the Artistic Director
Like the other most popular opera in the world – Carmen – Madama Butterfly was a fiasco on its
opening night. The soprano was visibly pregnant (a rumour had been spread that the conductor –
Toscanini – was the father); an anti-Puccini clique, fuelled by jealousy and resentment of the
composer’s successes, was prepared to disrupt things at every turn with boos and catcalls….it was a
humiliating evening. Puccini withdrew the score for revision, and at least, unlike poor Bizet, lived to
see his opera eventually become a universal favourite.
An aspect of Puccini’s genius which has always fascinated me is his astonishing ability, using much
the same orchestra, in each of his mature works to create, to conjure, a specific, musically-induced
atmosphere. If Bohème includes some real gaîeté parisienne, if in Tosca we catch a whiff of old
incense in the dark of the stony cathedral, with Madama Butterfly we are transported to a place at
once familiar and strange. The folk song “Sakura”, together with other fragments and echoes, as a
sort of objet trouvé puts Japanese music right in the foreground. But the delicate web of melodic
contours and above all the harmonies (augmented triads pervasive here) and gentle touches of harp
and percussion maintain a sense of “otherness” – almost an exotic perfume. Puccini’s control of the
minutest details in his scores impresses those who admire craftsmanship (Anton von Webern was a
big fan), and his lyric inspiration, providing wave after wave of gorgeously grateful singing lines, is
at its peak. He entrusted a friend, Panizza, to prepare a reduction of the large romantic orchestration
for smaller theatres. This was accomplished with sensitivity and to the composer’s satisfaction, and is
the version we use with this production.
It is our fourth presentation of this masterpiece. Our goal is to rediscover the many beauties and
ambiguities in the piece: to avoid a clichéd, “touristic” treatment of its setting, yet to suggest its
enchantment; to show the harsh realities of the central relationship, yet to allow you to decide on the
moral framework within which you experience the events.
Many great soprano names are associated with the title role. We present with honour and delight
Sally Dibblee in her debut performances. Those who remember her first Violettas from a few seasons
ago know to expect something very special. Kurt Lehmann (Pinkerton) and Bruce Kelly (Sharpless)
are great and always welcome friends of POV. We introduce with pride our resident artists in
important supporting roles.
François Racine, who returns to direct, has grown over the many years of our collaboration into a
true master. Our very young designer, Elli Bunton, has in her POV debut met a great challenge with
resourcefulness and marvellous invention. We welcome back to the podium our very own Maestro
Giuseppe Pietraroia.
I hope your experience this evening will encourage you to book seats for the last production of our
season – a Canadian premiere: Mark Blitzstein’s Regina, based on Lillian Hellman’s play The Little
Foxes. Meanwhile, I wish you as always a great night with us in the theatre!
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
Act 1
In 1904, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, an American naval officer posted in Nagasaki, Japan,
arranges with the marriage broker Goro to lease a house – along with a pretty young wife. Both deals
may be cancelled on a month’s notice. The American consul, Sharpless, warns Pinkerton that the girl
may not take such a casual view of this marriage. Pinkerton is unconcerned; for now he is entranced
by the girl nicknamed Butterfly – but he drinks to the day he will wed “in real marriage a real
American wife.”
The girl, Cio-Cio-San, is an innocent, trusting 15-year-old, who has had to earn her living as a geisha
after her father committed suicide by order of the Mikado. Already passionately in love with
Pinkerton, Butterfly is ecstatic as she arrives for the wedding. After the brief ceremony, her uncle,
the Bonze, interrupts the festivities and denounces Cio-Cio-San for renouncing her religion and
turning to Christianity. Her family join the Bonze in condemning and shunning the devastated girl.
Pinkerton comforts Butterfly, and they sing a love duet in their new home.
Act 2
Three years later, Butterfly is living alone with her servant Suzuki and the child that Butterfly bore
after Pinkerton’s return to the US. The two women are nearly out of money, and Suzuki doubts that
Pinkerton will ever come back. Butterfly, however, believes with steely resolve that she, her
husband, and their baby will be together one day.
Goro has been presenting a succession of suitors to Butterfly; the latest is Prince Yamadori, but
Butterfly insists she is still married to Pinkerton and will not consider his offer.
When Sharpless brings Butterfly a letter from Pinkerton, he doesn’t have the courage to read it to her.
Instead he asks what she would do were Pinkerton never to return. Butterfly tells him she would have
but two choices – to go back to the life of a geisha or to die. Sharpless advises her to accept Prince
Yamadori’s offer of marriage. Butterfly is horrified, and then triumphant as she shows Sharpless her
son, Trouble, who will be renamed Joy on his father’s return. Sharpless leaves, promising to tell
Pinkerton about the child.
Pinkerton’s ship, the Abraham Lincoln, arrives in the harbour, and Butterfly joyfully decorates the
house with flowers, then keeps vigil through the night, awaiting Pinkerton.
Act 3
Early the next morning Sharpless arrives with Pinkerton and his new American wife, Kate. They
want Butterfly to give them the child and try to persuade Suzuki to break the news to her. Guiltridden, Pinkerton cannot bear to face Butterfly and flees the scene. As soon as she sees Kate,
Butterfly understands the situation. She agrees to give up the child, but only if Pinkerton comes in
person to fetch him. Kate and Sharpless go to find Pinkerton. Butterfly embraces the child, sends him
away to play, and then, like her father before her, kills herself — as Pinkerton rushes in, calling her
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
From Verismo to Turandot – A Puccini Primer
In the late 1900’s, a literary movement arose that came to be known as verismo (from the Italian
word vero, or truth). The verismo writers steeped their stories in human passion rather than reason,
and created white-hot tales of love, jealousy, revenge and violence. Giuseppe Verga, author of
Cavalleria Rusticana from a selection of short stories Vita dei campi (Life in the Fields), and Luigi
Capuana were the leading proponents.
Their stories proved great source material for a new age of Italian composers, searching for a postVerdid voice that could capture the social tensions of fin-de siecle Europe. The first successful
operas in this style, Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci,
were dramaturgically based on compression. Based on short stories, these hour long operas were
created in reaction to the lengthening of the form during the late Romantic period. Characters were
drawn in bold primary colours. Arias were shorter, and rather than memorable tunes and rhyming
poetry, they offered rich, sweeping melodies based on narrative text. Plots were based on a few
incidents that took place during a short period of time. The endings of each opera had the qualities of
“grand guignol”, a populist French theatrical counterpart.
Puccini’s first operas, Le Villi and Edgar, were very much in this style. Le Villi is an operatic telling
of the story of the ballet Giselle, which presents the story of the forest spirits of jilted brides, who
haunt and eventually kill false lovers. Edgar ends with the murder of the leading lady at the hands of
her evil rival for the title character’s affections. Both operas showed veristic promise, but were not
ultimately lasting.
With Manon Lescaut, Puccini began to establish a more complete version of verismo, rich with the
passion of the previous decade, but fuller in characterization and musical development. La Bohème
embraces the verismo value of celebrating the real lives of everyday people, created with a softer
musical voice. Tosca followed, with a return to the grand and gruesome passions of the earlier
With Madama Butterfly, Puccini found a balance between the sentimental and the overwhelming.
Great moments of delicacy alternate with emotional outpourings that well from the emotional core of
the characters. The villainy is one of Pinkerton’s carelessness rather than a malevolence, Butterfly’s
tragedy is one of misplaced hope rather than blind jealousy or fatal illness. The conflict is both
personal and cultural, a story of larger scope than the private stories of the earlier operas.
After Butterfly, Puccini began a period of experimentation with each opera different from the next.
La Rondine was Puccini’s attempt at writing in the operetta style. With rapturous waltzes and an
ending marked by the end of a relationship rather than a life, La Rondine is perhaps Puccini’s most
sentimental work. In La Fanciulla del West, Puccini created an impressionistic landscape of the
America of legend, equal parts Debussy and stories of the West. The operas of Il Trittico (Il
Tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicci) highlight different aspects of Puccini’s personality:
passionate, spiritual, and fun-loving. His final opera Turandot, his most musically adventurous, was
more a precursor to the future than a celebration of the past.
For more information on Puccini’s life, visit
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
The Personality of Giacomo Puccini
Giacomo Puccini was a man of many contradictions. He was at once the fun-loving man of the
theatre and life of the party and a melancholic artist whose personal relationships were filled
with pain and longing. Two examples from his writings illustrate this dichotomy.
The Rules of Le Club de la Bohème
1. The members of the Club la bohème, faithful interpreters of the spirit in which it was
founded, pledge themselves under oath to be well and eat better.
2. Grouches, pedants, weak stomachs, fools grumblers and other wretches of this kind will
not be admitted but will be chased away by the members.
3. The president functions as conciliator in disputes, but pledges himself to hinder the
treasurer in the collection of the members.
4. The treasurer is empowered to abscond with the funds.
5. The illuminations of the club-room shall be by means of a paraffin lamp. Should there be
a shortage of paraffin, the moccoli of the members will be used (A pun, the word means
both candle-ends and oaths.)
6. It is forbidden to play cards honestly.
7. Silence is prohibited.
8. Wisdom is not permitted, except in special cases.
The Poetry
I feel alone, without a friend,
Even music makes me sad.
When death shall come to find me
I shall be glad to rest.
Oh how hard is my life,
though I seem happy to many.
But what of my successes?
They pass and what remains?
It’s worth so little –
they are ephemeral things,
Life runs on towards the abyss.
Those who are alive and young are happy,
but who is aware of all this?
One’s youth passes quickly,
and the eye scrutinizes eternity.
Throughout his life these emotional poles were at play with one another, and can be heard in the
romance, wit, and melancholy of his music.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
From Tabloid to Opera: The Genesis of Butterfly’s Story
The road to the creation of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly begins with a reportedly true story, and
continues through a series of re-tellings to become one of operas iconic works.
The story began as a true account of the life of Tsuru Yamamura, a Japanese woman who had a son
with an English merchant. Abandoned, she attempted suicide, and ultimately the child was taken not
to America, but to Nagasaki.
John Luther Long, an American lawyer, romanticized and inflated the story and published it as an
article in Century Magazine in 1898. His story is very close to Madama Butterfly, save the fact that
Butterfly’s suicide is not successful, and she disappears with the child rather than allow him to be
taken by his father.
His story was undoubtedly influenced by the 1887 faux memoir Madame Chysanthème by French
naval officer Pierre Loti. Loti takes a far less kind view of his Japanese geisha, who is interested
only in the riches she can extract from him, and the final scene shows Chrysanthème counting her
money and waiting for her next “husband”.
Felix Regamey, outraged at the tone of the novel, wrote the reactionary novel in 1894, Le cahier rose
de Mme Chrysansthème, a sympathetic reaction told from geisha’s perspective.
These stories, and many like them, were at the forefront of popular culture. David Belasco, an
American playwright and producer, was inspired to write a one act play in 1900 as a companion
piece to a farce Naughty Anthony. In Belasco’s version, the play begins with the abandoned
Butterfly of Act II, and three elements, Butterfly’s silent vigil, her ultimate suicide and Pinkerton’s
delayed return were added by Belasco to build the dramatic thrust of the piece.
Puccini, who saw the play performed in English and could scarcely understand the dialogue, was
intensely moved by the arch of the story. In the hands of his librettists Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi
Illica, the events of Act I were created, as well as text far more poetic than Belasco’s sensational
drama. At one point during the exploration of libretto, Illica had created an additional act set in the
consulate, but Puccini demanded its omission, insisting that “the drama must close without
interruption – rapid, effective, horrible.”
Ultimately, the story, realized in so many ways, found its most sensitive home in Puccini’s opera,
imperfect in its Japanese references perhaps, but most certainly true to the tragic events that befell the
original characters.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
Butterfly’s Music: Giving a Voice to Hope
Madama Butterfly is one of opera’s most accessible works, built on beautiful, evocative melodies and
a heartfelt, compelling story, all amidst a backdrop of social conflict that remains relevant a century
after its premiere. Suprisingly, the work has been reviled by critics and summarily dismissed by
musicologists. Even the composer’s friend Guilio Ricordi noted the piece as a “facile tear-jerker”
unworthy of Puccini’s genius.
In recent years, however, the work’s profound popularity has inspired writers and musicians to
engage in new critical review, and Puccini’s self-professed favourite opera appears to have gained a
new artistic respect to match its sentimental appeal. The often underestimated composer is being
recognized as an artful interpreter of text, an inspired orchestrator, and of course, a master melodist,
one who can weave these skills to create character and drama that can speak directly to the heart of
his listener.
As you explore Madama Butterfly – for the first or 20th time – consider these musical aspects of the
work that underlie the truly sumptuous and expansively emotional score.
Melodic Cells
Melody in Madama Butterfly is paramount; character is defined by consistent use of particular
intervallic patterns – short, melodic cells, if you like - that are repeated, embellished, and developed
to create unity of character throughout the work.
For example, listen for the first two bars music of Butterfly’s entrance; these four notes form the
basis for the aria that announces the entrance of the innocent heroine.
Example #1 – Butterfly’s Entrance
Five upwardly modulating repetitions of this theme, taken by solo violin, woodwinds, solo voice and
ultimately full orchestra evolve into a full statement of the aria’s melody, an aural impression of a
flower coming into blossom, petal by petal. Later in the act, this same melody reappears several
times, notably as the final climax of Butterfly and Pinkerton’s Love Duet (Dolce notte! Quante
Stelle! – Sweet Night! So many Stars!), while the opera’s most popular aria, (Un bel di vedremo)
evolves from this same two measure melodic cell.
For all the impressionist sounds of Butterfly’s music, Pinkerton’s music takes a decidedly more
forthright tone. His first aria is built on the opening notes of “The Star Spangled Banner”, a perfect
major triad, evoking not only the familiar patriotic sounds of the American National Anthem, but
also a simplicity and clarity far removed from the impressionist chromatic planning of Butterfly’s
entrance music. It is most certainly no coincidence that Pinkerton’s second aria (Amore o grillo, dir
non saprei – I cannot say whether it is love or caprice), where he tells the consul Sharpless of the
superficial quality of his feelings for Butterfly, begins with this same major triad, and his solo music
shares the same directness of melodic/design throughout.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
Sustained repetition of musical ideas can create cathartic moments; emotion is intensified as the
listener hears the relentless repetition as a tragic scene unfolds. This technique is not specific to any
particular time period; it can be heard in the final laments of Monteverdi and Purcell and in the
minimal music of Phillip Glass. Puccini is a master of this technique and employed it throughout his
canon; it can be scene in the Embarkation Scene in Manon Lescaut, the execution of Cavaradossi in
Tosca, and the Calaf’s obsessive infatuation with Turandot at that ends Act I.
In Act II, repetition creates wrenching despair as we watch the American consul reveal to Butterfly
the contents of the letter from Pinkerton: he will not be returning. At the start of the scene, the
following ostinato (repetitive theme) is introduced:
Example #2 – Letter Duet from Act II
The consistent repetition of this theme, developed with a series of countermelodies, can be seen to
represent Butterfly’s single-minded belief and blinding hope that he will return. The audience, of
course, knows that this will not happen, but as Puccini spins out this musical scene, minute after
minute, the emotional power of her false hope becomes unbearable to watch. These same themes
become the basis for the “Humming Chorus”, the quiet music that accompanies the start of Butterfly,
Suzuki and the child Trouble’s vigil upon hearing the sound of Pinkerton’s ship in the harbour. By
adding the sound of the human voice to the offstage, it is as if we ourselves have joined the story as
witness to the heroine’s soon to be broken dreams.
Exotic Elements
The “exotic” sounds incorporated into the score are more readily heard. In preparation to compose
Butterfly, Puccini studied Japanese folk music and included a wide range of melodies learned
through this study. While still very much in the Italian tradition, this Japanese style and at times the
melodies themselves are incorporated throughout the score. The clipped staccato narrative of the
marriage broker Goro creates a studied Japanese character, pentatonic scales evoke the sounds of folk
tunes at Butterfly’s wedding, repeated crashes of the gong herald the Bonze’s condemnation of
Butterfly’s marriage outside the faith, and Suzuki’s Act II prayer to the gods is based on an Eastern
Takai-Yama, traditional Japanese melody, heard in Act II Scene I, Suzuki’s Prayer
A full listing of the Japanese melodies found in Madama Butterfly can be found at
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
While melody provides the framework for consistent character development, it is the orchestration
that creates the intensity of emotion that makes this work so compelling.
When listening to “Un bel di vedremo”, Puccini’s mastery in this arena is evident. Solo violin and
muted strings mirror the opening vocal phrases where Butterfly begins to paint the picture of her
lover’s return. Low strings and winds take the lead when the ship appears, horns take the melody as
she hears the guns saluting his arrival. As she timidly decides to wait for him at the top of the hill
rather than running to the harbour, the orchestration thins out, and her melody is no longer doubled.
The next section, where Butterfly sees the lone figure of Pinkerton emerge from the crowd, is lightly
underscored with strings, this time anticipating the beat and creating dramatic tension as she yearns
for his embrace. The orchestra lightens as she decides again not to answer his cries, “partly for fun
and partly as not to die at their meeting”. On the word “morire”, the melody returns with full strings,
horn and trumpet – a momentary outburst that quiets as she hears Pinkerton call out his pet names for
her. She soon breaks the story to tell Suzuki “all this will happen, I promise you. Keep your fears to
yourself, I shall await him with unspeakable faith”. With this return to reality, Puccini unleashes the
full power of the orchestra, a wellspring of sound that is Butterfly’s personal strength and undying
belief. The quiet fifteen year old geisha is called upon to dominate this massive orchestral sound
with a vocal, dramatic and spiritual intensity that is the power of this work.
These are but a few of the examples that illustrate the creative brilliance of Puccini’s music. Every
note in the score, vocal and instrumental, is carefully chosen to create an emotional impact that is
instantly understood, whether it is being heard for the first or hundredth time by a musical novice or
seasoned professional. On the 100th anniversary of this beloved work, enjoy Puccini’s compositional
mastery that can fill your heart, captivate your mind, and move your soul.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
Puccini and Japonisme
Puccini called Madama Butterfly a “tragedia giapponese”: a Japanese tragedy. But it’s an Italian
opera written by three men who had never visited Japan. How Japanese could it really be? And why
write an opera set in Japan in the first place?
The answer to the last question is the French word Japonisme—to translate it literally as Japanism
isn’t sufficient. Better to call it Japanamania. Soon after Japan ended its 200-year isolation from the
West in 1854, the European art world discovered Japan. Western artists admired and imitated the
incredible energy and authenticity of the images, the flat, colored backgrounds, the cutting off of
figures at the edge of a frame, the asymmetry and diagonal constructions, and the juxtaposition of
wildly-colored fabrics in many-layered kimono.
But what brought “the Orient” to the general public were the world’s fairs held in Paris during the
19th century. National pavilions displayed the art and culture of Asia and the Pacific, including
plays, poetry, and musical performances. The Expositions of 1867 and 1889 were especially
important to composers, who heard Asian music for the first time and were exposed to a completely
new and stimulating sound world. The five-note scale of Japan (easily played by using just the black
keys on the piano), the complex rhythms of Japanese music, and a whole new world of percussion
instruments found their way into piano pieces, orchestral works, and operas. Gilbert and Sullivan’s
Mikado was written to satirize England’s Japanamania, spurred by the enormously popular Japanese
village on view in London in 1885.
There were other “Japanese” operas, all known to Puccini, before Madama Butterfly, too: La princess
jaune by Saint-Saëns (1872), Mascagni’s Iris (1898) on a libretto by Luigi Illica, Puccini’s
collaborator; and Messager’s Madame Chrysanthème (1893), one of the original sources of the
Butterfly story. So surrounded by Japanamania on every side, the composer was primed for the
encounter with his favorite character, Madama Butterfly.
“There is no comparison between my love for Mimì, Musetta, Manon, and Tosca and that
love which I have in my heart for her for whom I wrote music in the night.” –Giacomo
It was while he was in London to supervise Tosca in 1900 that Puccini fell in love with the heroine of
David Belasco’s melodrama Madame Butterfly. Afire with enthusiasm, he directed Giulio Ricordi to
get the rights to Belasco’s play and John Luther Long’s story on which the play was based. While
Puccini was engaged in an intense battle over the plot with his librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe
Giacosa, he was also steeping himself in the music and culture of Japan.
In 1902 Puccini met in Milan with Sadayakko, the celebrated actress. He wanted to hear “the high
twitter” of a Japanese woman’s voice, and probably also saw her play, The Geisha and the Knight,
which has a cherry blossom scene much like the flower scene in his opera. Mrs. Oyama, wife of the
Japanese ambassador to Italy, was also invaluable in singing “native” songs to Puccini who wrote
them down and asked many questions. She procured sheet music from Japan and went through the
libretto with the composer, pointing out errors in the names of characters, gods, and household
objects. One mistake she noted was that “Yamadori” is a woman’s name. It remains uncorrected!
Puccini’s hunger for authenticity led him to weave versions of 11 Japanese songs throughout the
score. Besides infusing the music with local color, Puccini used them for their dramatic effect. The
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
original words to the songs didn’t seem to matter. For example, one of the most searing moments of
the score is Butterfly’s aria “Che tua madre,” in which she describes life on the streets. Here Puccini
excerpts a traditional rice-planting song. Scholars can’t agree on how many songs Puccini quoted—
there may be more than the 11 substantiated. It seems that Puccini so immersed himself in this music
that he was able to synthesize new Japanese-sounding tunes. Even Japanese scholars can’t always tell
what’s authentic and what’s invented.
Puccini’s delicious orchestration adds another Japanese flavor for us Westerners. He used traditional
Western orchestral instruments in combinations that mimic the sounds he heard from Japanese
musicians and enlarged the usual percussion section to include tam-tams (gongs) of various sizes,
Japanese bells, tubular chimes, and a keyboard glockenspiel.
With all these efforts to honor and include Japanese culture, did Puccini succeed in writing a
Japanese tragedy? Not really. It remains a Western artwork based on racial stereotypes and
colonialist attitudes. But Puccini dearly loved his suffering beauty. Out of his dream of Japan, he
created an indelible work that transcends its cruelty. [772]
—Beth “Opera Lady” Parker
© 2007
For further information on Puccini’s Japanese borrowings and sources for this article, visit the
Madama Butterfly page at
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
Butterfly Stories
Compiled by Beth “Opera Lady” Parker
Pittsburgh Opera
Les Mis by Puccini? Think of the possibilities…
More than one critic of Les Mis has pointed out the family resemblance between
many of Claude-Michel Schönberg’s melodies and Puccini’s music. It turns out
that one of the subjects Puccini was considering around 1902 was indeed Les
misérables! Victor Hugo’s novel had been published 40 years earlier and was
still a hot topic in Paris at the time, but Puccini fell in love with Butterfly’s story
The Star Spangled Banner
What’s more American than “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the US
national anthem? It seems the whole world knows it. But it wasn’t so
well known in 1904, when the opera premiered. For one thing,
America had not yet become a world power. And another: it didn’t
become the official anthem until 1931. Puccini quoted it no less than
five times in the opera—keep your ears open!
Salomea Krusceniska, the Butterfly from the first successful performance in Brescia on May 28, 1904. Opening Night Fiasco
Madama Butterfly may be the world’s favorite opera today, but when it
premiered in Milan in February of 1904, it was the worst night of Puccini’s
professional life. Puccini’s publisher Giulio Ricordi wrote, “Growls, shouts,
groans, laughter, giggling, the usual single cries of bis [encore], designed
specially to excite the audience still more: these sum up the reception given by
the public of La Scala to Giacomo Puccini’s new work. After this pandemonium,
throughout which practically nothing could be heard, the public left the theater
pleased as Punch. One had never seen before so many happy…faces—satisfied
as if by a triumph in which they had all shared.” Ouch!
A few months later the first revised version (with the crucial addition of the tenor aria “Addio fiorito
asil” at the end of the opera) opened successfully in Brescia. Puccini and his librettists continued to
tinker over the next two years, recasting the opera into two acts and making the character of
Pinkerton less callous. The “definitive” version, as published by Ricordi, was produced in Paris in
1906. This is the version Pacific Opera Victoria presents.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
Giuseppe Zenatello and Giuseppe De Luca, the first F. B. Pinkerton and Sharpless of the ill‐fated Milan premiere in February, 1904. B. F. Pinkerton or F. B. Pinkerton? or is it Linkerton?
In America the cad who abandons Butterfly is called B. F. Pinkerton
(Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton), but in England and many European countries
he’s most often F. B. (Sir Francis Blummy Pinkerton). What’s the deal here?
In John Luther Long’s story, Butterfly—speaking pidgin English—refers to
him as “Ben-ja-meen Frang-a-leen Pikkerton.” But Puccini’s libretto team
changed to the British-sounding name, even though he’s referred to as an
American officer!
When the opera was reworked for the successful second production, the name was changed back to
Long’s original B. F. But since the Italian score by Ricordi (from 1907) continues to be printed to
this day in some editions with. F. B., there has always remained a cloud over the name. A British
conductor told me that in England, B. F. is an abbreviation for “bloody fool,” which causes
audiences to titter. And in Germany, he’s Linkerton, supposedly because Pinkerton sounds like a
naughty word. And you thought it was all about great art!
Geraldine Farrar, the first Metropolitan Opera Butterfly, with her Trouble. Farrar sang
the role 95 times at the Met!
That kid is Trouble!
In Puccini’s score, Butterfly's child is named Dolore. This translates
roughly to sorrow or pain. The original English translation published
by Ricordi called him Sorrow, so you may occasionally see that name
used. But going back again to John Luther Long’s story, most English
performances use Trouble. And sometimes Trouble is what they are!
It’s difficult to find a docile little child who can play the part. One little
boy I worked with was just fine during staging rehearsals while the singers were “marking” (saving
their voices), but as soon as Butterfly began singing at full voice, the poor kid burst into tears. He
cried every time she sang, and had to be replaced with a child who was obviously much older than
the toddler called for in the opera.
Puccini’s Yacht, the Cio-Cio San
Not only was Butterfly Puccini’s favorite among his creations, he made a lot
of money from it! With the royalties he earned, Puccini purchased a yacht he
named Cio-Cio-San, Butterfly’s Japanese name in the opera. (In English it’s
pronounced Cho-Cho-San.) Here’s the always-dapper Puccini about to set
sail with his step-granddaughter Biki.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
Japanese Phrases in the Libretto
Puccini and his librettists used (and mis-used) many Japanese words in the libretto
Archaic English word for a Japanese Buddhist monk (Japanese bonso).
Pronounced Cho-Cho-San in English; “san” is an honorific title.
“Higher ones” in the Shinto religion. Suzuki (a Buddhist!) prays to Izanagi,
Izanami, Sarudahiko, and Tenshokodaijin (names are garbled in the libretto);
and quotes “Ocunama,” an invention of the librettists.
The center of Western influence until well in the 20th century. America
dropped the plutonium bomb on Nagasaki in 1945. Its leading tourist site today
is the Glover House. Tom Glover, known in Japan as Guraba Tomisaburo,
was the son of a Japanese woman and the Scottish businessman who built the
house. Many believe he is the real model for Trouble. Having been shunned by
his countrymen for years because of his mixed ancestry, Tomisaburo
committed suicide after the atomic bomb shattered his city.
Marriage broker (Goro).
Long sash that binds a kimono.
Hotoké are deceased ancestors represented by small wooden figures.
Members of the feudal military class. They rarely had to fight after 1650, so
devoted themselves to the study of Confucianism, the arts, or government.
Ceremonial suicide in the samurai class, also known as hara-kiri. Women
committed jigai by piercing their necks.
Shoji are sliding rice-paper doors of a Japanese home.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
About POV’s Production
The set and costumes for Madama Butterfly were designed by Elli Bunton, and built in Victoria and
Pacific Opera Victoria’s Opera Shop. The set is influenced by butoh, contemporary Japanese
movement theatre, and created to underscore the emotional content of the work rather than offer a
literal environment.
The costumes are impressions of traditional Japanese dress rather than authentic. Butterfly’s
costumes meld both Eastern and Western silhouettes, while the American characters are more
traditionally authentic.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
Study Activities
For Grades 1-3
Explore Japanese Folk Tales
Below is a brief list of Japanese folk tales suitable for classroom use.
Folk Tales
Lent, Blair. The Funny Little Woman Text by Arlene Mosel. Caldecott Award. Japan.
While chasing a dumpling, a little lady is captured by wicked creatures from whom she
escapes and becomes the richest woman in Japan.
Martin, Rafe. Mysterious Tales of Japan. Putnam, 1996.
Includes well-known tales as "The Crane Maiden" and other less known stories.
Paterson, Katherine. The Tale of the Mandarin Duck. Illus. by Leo and Diane Dillon.
Lodestar, 1990. [Picture Book]. Boston Globe Horn Book Award. A pair of Mandarin
ducks, separated by a cruel lord who seeks to possess the drake for his colorful beauty,
reward a compassionate couple who risk their lives to reunite the ducks.
Peach Boy From Troll. Asian Legends Reading Centers. Grades 2-5. Publisher's catalog.
A baby boy who came to a childless couple from a giant peach grows up to fight the
terrible ogres and save the townspeople.
Rafe, Martin. Mysterious Tales of Japan. Illustrated by Tatsuro Kiuchi. Putnam, 1997.
Buddhist and Shinto traditions permeate this collection of ten traditional Japanese tales,
each accompanied by a classic haiku and painting. ALSC Notable Book 1997.
Snyder, Dianne. The Boy of the Three-Year Nap. Illustrated by Allen Say. Reissue ed.
Houghton Mifflin, 1993. Ages 4-8
Lazy Taro gets his comeuppance when his wise mother uses his trick to avoid work to her
own advantage. 1989 Caldecott Honor Book
Tejima. Ho-Limlim; A Rabbit Tale from Japan Philomel, 1990. Ages 6-8.
An aging rabbit takes one last foray hunting for food but decides to let his children and
grandchildren search for treats for him.
Waite, Michael P. Jojofu Illustrated by Yoriko Ito. William Morrow, 1995. Ages 5 and
up. From publisher's catalog. Based on a Japanese folktale taken from the ancient Ima
Mukashi scrolls. Jojofu, Takumi's beloved dog, saves his master's life again and again.
Wells, Ruth. The Farmer and the Poor God Illus. by Yoshi. Simon & Schuster Books
fopr Young Readers. 1996. A poor god living in the attic of an unsuccessful family
prepares to move with them and causes a reversal of their fortunes. Values discussion.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
For Grades 4-6
Read Naomi’s Road by Joy Kogawa
Naomi’s Road, Joy Kogawa’s memoir for children about a family’s experience in the WWII
Japanese internment camps of central BC, can help introduce the concepts of prejudice and
social justice to upper elementary children, and in turn be related to the themes of Madama
Fiction (Juvenile)
Naomi's Road
Drawings by Matt Gould.
Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1986.
New, expanded ed.
Drawings by Ruth Ohi.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2005.
Publisher's Synopsis
Whiteside website)
... Naomi’s Road is the story of a girl whose JapaneseCanadian family is uprooted during the Second World
War. Separated from their parents, Naomi and her brother
Stephen are sent to an internment camp in the interior of
British Columbia. For the young girl growing up, war only
means that she can no longer return to her home in
Vancouver, or see her parents. Told from a child’s point of
view and without a trace of anger or malice, Naomi’s Road
has been praised as a powerful indictment of the injustice
of war and the government’s treatment of JapaneseCanadian citizens, both during and well after World War
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
For Middle School Students
Character analysis
Read the synopsis of Madama Butterfly
Create a character sketch for one of the main characters
Consider the following questions:
What can be assumed about this person?
What is the character’s relationship with the other characters?
Why does the character make the choices he or she does?
Include evidence from the opera to support your claims.
Include information about the following:
Character’s Name
Physical Characteristics (style and physical attributes)
Psychological Characteristics (mental aspects of character, how does he/she think?)
Emotional Characteristics (is he/she generally cheerful, sad, snobbish, “off-balance” etc.?)
Family background
How the tragedy has affected the character
Other interesting facts
After seeing the opera, look at your character sketch again. Does any aspect of the performance or the
music you heard change your view of the character you have profiled? Why?
Do the emotions conveyed through the music fit the character sketch?
Create a journal or blog from the point of view of your character
Choose a point of conflict for the character you chose for your character sketch, and write a journal or
blog of those events from the character’s point of view, using the character profile for assistance. Take on
the persona of that character and refer to the character in the first person. Remember to express only
information that your character would know.
For High School Students
Canadian History
Over the years, the relationship between Canada and Japan has been troubled, both home and
abroad. The story of Madama Butterfly demonstrates how the lack of cultural of understanding
in the late 19th century resulted in tragedy.
The Japanese Canadian National Musuem ( in Burnaby, BC, is a rich
resource for the study of Japanese Canadian History.
Class room Activity: Divide the class into four groups (19th C. Through WWI, Inter-war years,
WWII, Post WWII to today). Using key words from the timeline below and internet resource,
discover stories of Canadians of Japanese heritage.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
Japanese Canadian Timeline
1877: Arrival of Manzo Nagano, first Japanese person known to land and settle in Canada.
1895: British Columbia Government denies franchise (voting rights) to citizens of Asiatic
1907: Anti-Asiatic Riot in Vancouver led by the Asiatic Exclusion League.
1908: Hayashi-Lemieux Gentlemen's Agreement: Japan voluntarily agreed to restrict the
number of passports issued to male labourers and domestic servants to an annual maximum
of 400.
1916-1917: 200 Japanese Canadians volunteer for service with Canadian army in France
(WWI). 54 are killed and 92 are wounded.
1919: Japanese fishermen control nearly half of the fishing licenses (3,267). Department of
Fisheries reduces number of licenses issued to "other than white residents, British subjects
and Canadian Indians". By 1925 close to 1,000 licenses stripped from Japanese Canadians.
1920 Japanese Labour Union (eventually the Camp and Mill Workers' Union) formed under
Etsu Suzuki
1923: Gentlemen's agreement: Number of Japanese male immigrants (same categories as in
1908) not to exceed 150 annually.
1924: The labour union newspaper The Daily People [Minshu] begins publication.
1928: Gentlemen's Agreement amendment. Wives and children now included in the annual
quota of 150.
1931: Surviving veterans are given the right to vote.
1936: Delegation from Japanese Canadian Citizens League goes to Ottawa to plead for
franchise (the right to vote). They are unsuccessful.
1941 (January 8): Despite citizenship, Japanese Canadians are excluded from military
service (WWII).
1941 (March 4): Registration of all Japanese Canadians.
1941 (August 12): Japanese Canadians are required to carry registration cards that have
their thumbprint and photo.
1941 (December 7): Japan attacks Pearl Harbour.
1941 (December 8): 1,200 Japanese Canadian fishing boats are impounded. Japanese
language newspapers and schools close.
1942 (January 16): Removal begins of Japanese immigrant males from coastal areas.
1942 (February 24): All male Japanese Canadian citizens between the ages of 18 and 45
ordered to be removed from 100-mile-wide zone along the coast of British Columbia.
1942 (February 26): Mass evacuation of Japanese Canadians begins. Some given only 24
hours notice. Cars, cameras and radios confiscated for "protective measures". Curfew
1942 (March 4): Japanese Canadians ordered to turn over property and belongings to
Custodian of Enemy Alien Property as a "protective measure only".
1942 (March 16): First arrivals at Vancouver's Hastings Park pooling centre. All Japanese
Canadian mail censored from this date.
1942 (March 25): British Columbia Security Commission initiates scheme of forcing men to
road camps and women and children to "ghost town" detention camps.
1942 (April 21): First arrivals at detention camp in Greenwood, British Columbia.
1942 (May 21): First arrivals at camps at Kaslo, New Denver, Slocan, Sandon and Tashme,
British Columbia.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
1942 (June 29): Director of Soldier Settlement given authority to buy or lease confiscated
Japanese Canadian farms. 572 farms turned over without consulting owners.
1943 (January 19): Federal cabinet order-in-council grants Custodian of Enemy Alien
Property the right to dispose of Japanese Canadians' property without owners' consent.
1945 (January-May): 150 Japanese Canadians volunteer for service with Canadian army in
Far East.
1945 (April 13): Beginning of intimidation campaign towards Japanese Canadians living in
British Columbia to move to Eastern Canada or be deported to Japan.
1945 (September 2): Japan surrenders after atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and
Nagasaki (WWII).
1946 (May 31): "Repatriation" begins; 3,964 go to Japan, many of whom are Canadian
1947 (January 24): Federal cabinet order-in-council on deportation of Japanese Canadians
repealed after protests by churches, academics, journalists and politicians.
1948 (June 15): Federal franchise (the right to vote) extended to all Japanese Canadians.
1949 (April 1): Removal of last restrictions; Japanese Canadians are free to move anywhere
in Canada.
1967: Canadian government announced new immigration regulations - a point system for
selection. It no longer used race as a category.
1988 (September 22): Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announces the Canadian
Government's formal apology for the wrongful incarceration, seizure of property and the
disenfranchisement of thousands of Canadians of Japanese ancestry. A redress settlement was
also announced which included individual compensation for all survivors.
1992: National Nikkei Heritage Centre Society is incorporated. Japanese Canadian Redress
Foundation grants $3.0 million for heritage centre project.
1995: Japanese Canadian National Museum & Archives Society is incorporated and begins
planning for museum and archives facility in National Nikkei Heritage Centre (NNHC).
2000: Proposed date for the opening of NNHC in Burnaby, B.C. The official home of the
Japanese Canadian National Museum, JCCA Nikkei Resource Centre, a special events complex,
a restaurant and shops.
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008
Teacher’s Comments
Your comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated. Please take a few minutes to fill out this
questionnaire and return it to the address below. Thank you for your comments and suggestions.
Name: ________________________________ School: _____________________________________
Address: _____________________________________________________________________________
Phone Number: ________________ Fax: ___________________ Grade(s) you teach: ________________
Email: _____________________________________ Subjects: __________________________________
Have you attended other arts events with your students in the past year?
If yes, what were they? __________________________________________________________________
Were you able to use the Teacher’s Study Guide in your classroom activities before attending the opera?
If not, please elaborate: _________________________________________________________________
If so, which sections of the Study Guide did you find most useful?
How appropriate was the information provided in the Study Guide? _______________________________
What would you add/delete?
Did you spend classroom time discussing the performance after your students attended the opera?
Do you have any comments about the performance itself?
Would you like to receive information on our future Student Dress Rehearsals?
How would you like to receive information?
Other ______________
Further comments and suggestions _________________________________________________________
Please return this form to:
Pacific Opera, 1815 Blanshard Street, Suite 500, Victoria, BC V8T 5A4
Fax: 250.382.4944
Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Madama Butterfly 2008