Madame Butterfly


“Madame Butterfly” was originally a two act opera that eventually turned into a three act opera about love, heartbreak and tragedy. “Madame Butterfly” was written by Giacomo Puccini. Puccini was an Italian composer and his collection of operas- particularly “Madame Butterfly”- now comprise the standard repertoire of most opera houses and academies. Puccini has been called “the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi.” Puccini was one of the first composers to create an opera in the realistic verismo style. “Madame Butterfly” is one of Puccini’s most famous operas written in this style. The verismo style of opera is a post-Romantic, ‘realist’ interpretation of a story- a drastic change from classic opera in the late 1800s.

The style of “verismo” is distinguished by it’s use of realistic depictions of common, everyday life. ‘Realist’ music tends to reject the historical and mythical subjects associated with classical Romanticism. Verismo music was a move away from the style of Romantic music and a move towards more realistic, relatable operas. Verismo style operas tend to be based on real-life situations with which the audience can relate. Puccini is credited as one of the first composers to use the verismo style.

The plot of “Madame Butterfly” revolves around the heartbreaking story of Cho-Cho San (Madame Butterfly), who falls in love with Lieutenant Pinkerton while he is in Japan. Pinkerton leaves San and for three years, Cho-Cho waits for him anxiously, hoping for the arrival of her loving husband. Cho-Cho has a surprise waiting for Pinkerton- they have a son together he does not know about. However, when Pinkerton arrives back in Japan, he arrives with an American bride on his arm and apologies ready for Cho-Cho. Pinkerton can not bear to break the news to Cho-Cho himself, so he forces his wife Kate to tell Cho-Cho the truth. In the end Cho-Cho is left with nothing but a broken heart and before Pinkerton can make things right, Cho-Cho takes her own life. “Madame Butterfly” is considered a staple of the standard operatic repertoire all over the globe and ranks number seven in the Operabase list of the most commonly performed operas worldwide.

The music throughout the opera “Madame Butterfly” plays just as pivotal a role in the opera as the acting and the characters themselves. One of the most fascinating features of the music is how it fits the stage picture seamlessly. It emphasizes the dramatic situation, intensifies the emotional expression of the text, and throughout the entire opera the music gives the appropriate atmosphere to what is happening on the stage.

Although the opera “Madame Butterfly” is divided into two main acts, the division of the second act into two parts by the fall of the curtain, as well as the instrumental introduction of each act gives the opera the feel of a three act play. There is no chorus in “Madame Butterfly”,  however the large orchestra plays a pivotal role in the play by dividing up the acts and creating interludes between the various scenes. Musical episodes in “Madame Butterfly” are eloquently coordinated with the actions occurring on the stage, creating a flow throughout the opera that makes it intriguing and engaging. In the opera “Madame Butterfly,” Puccini creates a beautiful balance between what is happening on stage and what is happening off stage. The orchestra serves almost as a character by weaving together the different scenes and helping the audience comprehend the emotion being conveyed on stage.

Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” is one of the most recognized and performed opera across the globe, and for good reason. The entire play, from start to finish, consists of well developed characters and an intricately designed orchestra in order to create a beautiful and emotional story.

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