Composed by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Luigi and Giuseppe Giacosa
World Première at La Scala in Milan, Italy on February 17, 1904
July 12, 13, 19, and 20
Performed in Italian
Nagasaki, Japan, early 20th century.
On a terrace above Nagasaki harbor, U.S. Navy Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton inspects the house he has leased from a marriage broker, Goro.
He has just procured three servants and a geisha wife, Cio–Cio–San (Madama Butterfly). U.S. Counsul, Sharpless, arrives at the American consul in Nagasaki. Pinkerton describes the carefree philosophy of a sailor roaming the world in search of pleasure. At the moment he is enchanted with the fragile Cio–Cio–San, but his 999–year marriage contract contains a monthly renewal option. When Sharpless warns that the girl may not take her vows so lightly, Pinkerton brushes aside such scruples, saying he will one day marry a “real” American wife.
Cio–Cio–San is heard in the distance joyously singing of her wedding. Cio–Cio–San enters with her friends. She tells Pinkerton how her family had fallen on hard times, and she had to earn her living as a geisha. Her relatives bustle in, noisily expressing their opinions on the marriage. In a quiet moment, Cio–Cio–San shows Pinkerton her few earthly treasures and confides in him her intention to embrace his Christian faith.
The Imperial Commissioner performs the wedding ceremony, and the guests toast the couple. The celebration is interrupted by the Bonze, Cio–Cio–San’s uncle who is a Buddhist priest, as he bursts into the room and curses Cio–Cio–San for renouncing her ancestors’ religion. Pinkerton angrily sends the guests away. Alone with Cio–Cio–San in the moonlit garden, he dries her tears, and she joins him in singing of their love.
ACT II – Scene I
Three years later
Cio–Cio–San waits for her husband’s return while her maid, Suzuki, prays to her gods for aid. Cio–Cio–San waits with her eyes fixed on the harbor. When the maid shows her how little money is left, Cio–Cio–San urges her to have faith — one fine day Pinkerton’s ship will appear on the horizon. Sharpless brings a letter from Pinkerton, but before he can read it to Cio–Cio–San, Goro comes with a suitor, the wealthy Prince Yamadori. The girl dismisses both marriage broker and prince, insisting her American husband has not deserted her. When they are alone, Sharpless again starts to read the letter and suggests Pinkerton may not return. Cio–Cio–San proudly carries forth her child, Dolore (“Sorrow”), saying that as soon as Pinkerton knows he has a son he surely will come back. If he does not return, she would rather die than go back to her former life as a geisha. Moved by her devotion, Sharpless leaves without having revealed the full contents of the letter. Cio–Cio–San, on the brink of despair, hears a cannon’s report. She grabs a spyglass and observes Pinkerton’s ship entering the harbor. Now delirious with joy, she orders Suzuki to help her fill the house with flowers. As night falls, Cio–Cio–San, Suzuki, and the child begin their vigil.
ACT II – Scene II
The next morning
As dawn breaks, Suzuki insists that Cio–Cio–San rest. She carries her child to another room, singing a lullaby. Before long, Sharpless enters with Pinkerton, followed by Kate, his new American wife. When Suzuki realizes who the woman is, she collapses in despair but agrees to aid in breaking the news to her mistress. Pinkerton, seized with remorse, bids an anguished farewell to the scene of his former happiness then rushes away.
When Cio–Cio–San comes forth expecting to find him, she finds Kate instead. Guessing the truth, the shattered Cio–Cio–San agrees to give up her child if his father will return for him. Then, sending even Suzuki away, she takes out the dagger with which her father committed suicide and bows before a statue of Buddha, choosing to die with honor rather than live in disgrace. As she raises the blade, Suzuki pushes the child into the room. Sobbing farewell, Cio–Cio–San sends him into the garden to play, then stabs herself. As she dies, Pinkerton returns to see the final consequences of his actions.adapted from Opera News