Broadcast

Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast: Madama Butterfly 

Transmission of Saturday, December 17, 1:00 P.M.

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Cio-Cio-San (Racette) arrives for her wedding to Pinkerton
© Beatriz Schiller 2011

The 2011–12 Metropolitan Opera broadcast season is sponsored by
Toll Brothers, America’s luxury home builder®,
with generous long-term support from
The Annenberg Foundation and
the Vincent A. Stabile Endowment for Broadcast Media,
and through contributions from listeners worldwide.

Madama Butterfly

Music by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, based on the play by David Belasco 

THE CAST     (in order of vocal appearance)
Lt. B. F. Pinkerton     tenor, ROBERT DEAN SMITH
Goro     tenor, JOEL SORENSEN
Suzuki     mezzo, MARIA ZIFCHAK
Sharpless     baritone, LUCA SALSI
Cio-Cio-San     soprano, LIPING ZHANG
Her Relatives
Cousin     soprano, LAURA FRIES
Mother     soprano, BELINDA OSWALD
Uncle Yakuside     tenor, CRAIG MONTGOMERY
Aunt     alto, JEAN BRAHAM
Imperial Commissioner     bass, DAVID CRAWFORD
Registrar     tenor, DAVID LOWE
Bonze     bass-baritone, DANIEL SUMEGI
Yamadori     baritone, LUTHANDO QAVE
Kate Pinkerton     mezzo, JENNIFER JOHNSON CANO
                                         KEVIN AUGUSTINE
Cio-Cio-San’s child      { FRANKIE CORDERO
                                         MARC PETROSINO

Conducted by PLÁCIDO DOMINGO

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

Production: Anthony Minghella
Director and choreographer: Carolyn Choa
Set designer: Michael Levine
Costume designer: Han Feng
Lighting designer: Peter Mumford
Puppetry: Blind Summit Theatre
Chorus master: Donald Palumbo
Musical preparation: Joan Dornemann, Donna Racik,
    Paul Nadler, Carrie-Ann Matheson, Joshua Greene
Assistant stage directors: Sara Erde, Paula Williams
Prompter: Joan Dornemann
Italian coach: Hemdi Kfir 
 Production a gift of Mercedes and Sid Bass

Revival a gift of Rolex

Coproduction of the Metropolitan Opera
    with English National Opera and
    Lithuanian National Opera

THE SCENES      Timings (ET)
    (Japan)
ACT I                     1:00–1:59
    Outside a house overlooking Nagasaki Harbor
ACT II, Part I          2:28–3:20
    Cio-Cio-San’s house, three years later
ACT II, Part II         3:45–4:23
    The same, the next morning at dawn

Host: Margaret Juntwait
Commentator: Ira Siff
Music producer: Jay David Saks
Producers: Mary Jo Heath, Ellen Keel,
    William Berger
Executive producers: Mia Bongiovanni,
    Elena Park

For more information on the broadcasts,
    please visit www.operainfo.org.

Send quiz questions to:
    Metropolitan Opera Quiz
    Metropolitan Opera
    30 Lincoln Center
    New York, NY 10023
    or e-mail metquiz@metopera.org.

This performance is also being
    broadcast live on Metropolitan
    Opera Radio on SiriusXM
    channel 74.

THE STORY 

ACT I. U.S. Navy lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton inspects the house he has leased from a marriage broker, Goro, who has procured him servants and a geisha wife, Cio-Cio-San, known as Butterfly. The American consul, Sharpless, arrives, and 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 the 999-year contract Goro has arranged 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. Entering surrounded by friends, she tells Pinkerton about her background; she belongs to an honorable family, but when they fell on hard times, 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 her bridegroom her few earthly treasures, among them the dagger with which her father committed hara-kiri, and tells Pinkerton she intends to embrace his Christian faith. The Imperial Commissioner performs the wedding ceremony. The celebration is interrupted by Cio-Cio-San's uncle, a Buddhist monk, who curses the girl 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. Three years later, Cio-Cio-San awaits her husband's return. As Suzuki prays to her gods for aid, her mistress stands in the doorway, 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 the lieutenant, but before he can read it, Goro presents a wealthy suitor, Prince Yamadori. The girl dismisses both the marriage broker and the prince, insisting that her American husband has not deserted her. Sharpless tries tactfully to suggest that she might be better off with Yamadori, but Cio-Cio-San proudly carries forth her child, saying that as soon as Pinkerton knows of his son's existence he surely will come back; if he does not, she would rather die than return to her former life. Moved by her devotion and faith, Sharpless leaves. Cio-Cio-San, on the point of despair, hears a cannon report; seizing a spyglass, she discovers Pinkerton's ship entering the harbor. Delirious with joy, she orders Suzuki to help her strew the house with flowers. As night falls, Cio-Cio-San, Suzuki and the child begin their vigil.

ACT III. As dawn breaks, Suzuki insists that Cio-Cio-San rest. Humming a lullaby to her son, she carries him to another room. Before long, Sharpless enters with Pinkerton, followed by Kate, his new wife. When Suzuki learns who the American woman is, she is heartbroken, but she agrees for the sake of the child to aid in breaking the news to her mistress. Pinkerton, overcome with remorse, begs Sharpless to speak to Cio-Cio-San for him, then bids an anguished farewell to the scene of his former happiness and rushes away. When Cio-Cio-San comes forth expecting to find her beloved, she finds Kate instead. Guessing the truth, Cio-Cio-San agrees to give up her child if his father will return for him. Then, sending even Suzuki away, she takes out her father's dagger and bows before a statue of Buddha, preparing to die with honor rather than live in disgrace. Just as she raises the blade, Suzuki pushes the child into the room. Sobbing a last farewell, Cio-Cio-San sends him into the garden to play, then stabs herself. As she dies, Pinkerton is heard calling her name.

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Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton (Racette, Roberto Aronica) on their wedding night
© Beth Bergman 2011

THE BACKGROUND   

Giacomo Puccini experienced recurrent difficulty in choosing opera subjects. At the height of success after Manon Lescaut, La Bohème and Tosca, he settled on a play he had seen in London — American impresario David Belasco's Madame Butterfly. Though the composer understood almost no English, he instinctively felt the appeal of the story. It took time to secure rights to the play, and for his librettists, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, to fashion a text.

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Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio-San in Anthony Minghella's
production of Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan
Opera

© Beth Bergman 2011

Belasco's play capitalized on the turn-of-the-century vogue for picture-postcard views of Japan, transforming a magazine novella by John Luther Long (1855-1927) with virtuoso stagecraft. Long had in turn been influenced by Pierre Loti's 1888 novel Madame Chrysanthème.

Perhaps because of its fragile atmosphere, Madama Butterfly offered a perfect excuse for demonstrators jealous of Puccini to turn its premiere, at La Scala on February 17, 1904, into a fiasco. Neither a fine cast — Rosina Storchio, Giovanni Zenatello, Giuseppe De Luca — nor the authority of Maestro Cleofonte Campanini availed.

The composer made revisions, redeeming his opera with a second "premiere" at Brescia, near Milan, on May 28, 1904, with dramatic soprano Salomea Krusceniski as Cio-Cio-San. Puccini made further modifications for the Paris premiere, at the Opéra-Comique, on December 28, 1906; it was this "Paris" version that formed the basis for the printed edition of the score.

The first U.S. performance was in Washington, D.C., in English, by the Henry W. Savage Opera Company on October 15, 1906; the same company brought Butterfly to Manhattan's Garden Theatre the following month. The Metropolitan Opera premiere, supervised by the composer, was in Italian, on February 11, 1907. The four Butterfly principals under Arturo Vigna's baton were Geraldine Farrar as Cio-Cio-San, Louise Homer as Suzuki, Enrico Caruso as Pinkerton and Antonio Scotti as Sharpless.

Butterfly did not figure significantly in the subsequent Met careers of Homer or Caruso, but most Met casts of the opera for the next twenty seasons featured either Farrar or Scotti (or both). Cio-Cio-San remained one of Farrar's signature roles until her retirement in 1922, with 139 performances in New York and on tour; Scotti's Butterfly tally was even more impressive, with 162 Met outings as Sharpless before his 1933 company farewell.

The Met's second staging of Madama Butterfly — unveiled on November 24, 1922 — remained in service at the Met for more than thirty seasons. Another notable Met Butterfly was Yoshio Aoyama's 1958 production, its decor and movement inspired by Japanese theater traditions.

The first night of the Met's current Butterfly, staged by Anthony Minghella, was on September 25, 2006; the occasion also marked the 800th performance of Puccini's opera by the company. James Levine conducted Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, Maria Zifchak, Marcello Giordani and Dwayne Croft.

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The death of Cio-Cio-San (Racette)
© Beth Bergman 2011

WHAT TO READ AND HEAR   

Mary Jane Phillips-Matz's Puccini: A Biography (Northeastern) is strong on biographical detail and the particulars of the first Butterfly productions; Julian Budden's Puccini: His Life and Works (Oxford) offers elegantly phrased musical analyses of Butterfly and the composer's other works. John Luther Long's short story and David Belasco's melodrama are readily available, but neither is the equal in pathos or economy of Puccini's opera. Five different versions of the Butterfly libretto, reflecting the changes made between 1904 and 1907, are available at http://opera.stanford.edu/Puccini/ Butterfly/libretto.html.

Madama Butterfly has an unusually happy recording history. Renata Scotto, an incomparable interpreter of Puccini's geisha, recorded the opera twice; both sets are highly recommended, but most listeners prefer the vocal freshness of Scotto's 1966 EMI recording under John Barbirolli to her CBS performance of the following decade, paced by Lorin Maazel. Victoria de los Angeles, a Cio-Cio-San of endearing radiance, also recorded two Butterflys, both for EMI; the earlier set features idiomatic, sensitive conducting by Gianandrea Gavazzeni and superlative performances by Giuseppe di Stefano (Pinkerton) and Tito Gobbi (Sharpless), while the later performance boasts the gleaming Pinkerton of Jussi Björling. Renata Tebaldi was caught at her vocal zenith in her 1951 Decca Butterfly, led by Alberto Erede. Other Butterflys available on CD preserve the intelligence and verbal acuity of Maria Callas (EMI), the rich dignity of Leontyne Price (RCA), the childlike delicacy of Anna Moffo (RCA) and the verismo-flavored intensity of Toti Dal Monte (Pearl).

On DVD, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's 1974 film of Butterfly (DG) fields Mirella Freni, Christa Ludwig, Plácido Domingo and Robert Kerns as its sympathetic — and highly photogenic — principals, with Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic creating a lush musical performance worthy of the film's sumptuous visuals. Frédéric Mitterand's 1995 movie (Sony) features attractive young singers, among them Ying Huang (Cio-Cio-San) and Richard Troxell (Pinkerton), led by James Conlon. Robert Wilson's highly stylized staging is fascinating or maddening, according to one's taste; first produced in Paris, in 1993, and subsequently seen in Moscow and Los Angeles, the Wilson Butterfly was filmed in its 2003 incarnation in Amsterdam, with Australian soprano Cheryl Barker as its vivid Cio-Cio-San. spacer 

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