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The Story

Cio-Cio-San, the young Japanese bride of dashing American officer Lieutenant Pinkerton, finds her romantic idyll shattered when he deserts her shortly after their marriage. She lives in hope that one day he will return.

Three years later, Cio-Cio-San and her little son see Pinkerton's ship in the harbour. She excitedly expects his visit – but Pinkerton and his American wife Kate have come only to take the boy away, to raise him in America. Despairing, Cio-Cio-San bids her son farewell and stabs herself.

Background

Giacomo Puccini was entranced by David Belasco’s play Madame Butterfly (based on a popular short story by John Luther Long) when he saw it in London in 1900. Harnessing the talents of librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (with whom Puccini had created La bohème and Tosca), he adapted Cio-Cio-San's tragic tale for the operatic stage. Although the premiere at La Scala, Milan, in 1904 was poorly received, that same year Puccini revised and restaged the opera in Brescia, to great acclaim. Madama Butterfly became a hugely popular opera with performers and audiences alike, and remains one of Puccini's most performed works.

The romantic exoticism of 19th-century European images of Japan inspired Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s production with its elegant oriental sets and costumes. Puccini drew on Japanese folk melodies for the score, one of his most evocative and atmospheric. In Act I, Cio-Cio-San expresses her radiant happiness in ‘Ancora un passo’, and the two lovers rapturously declare their love for each other in the passionate duet ‘Viene la sera’. In Act II the mood becomes more pensive, as in ‘Un bel di vedremo’ Cio-Cio-San longs for the ‘fine day’ when her husband, Pinkerton, will return to her.

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