Just like La Bohème, Madama Butterfly wasn't an instant success on its first debut. Actually, the debut at Teatro alla Scala on 17th February 1904, was a real fiasco. Puccini then made some substantial changes and when it went on stage again, at Teatro Grande in Brescia on 28th May 1904, it turned out to be a triumph and started its way to the theatres of the world, without ever stopping. The very first Japanese soprano interpreting Cio-cio-san was Hiroko Morita, who sang in many different Italian theatres between 1920 and 1931. Also in this case, besides inspiring often the film industry, Puccini's Butterfly is at the core of a great musical of the last years, Miss Saigon, set during the Vietnam war.
Synopsis Madama Butterfly
A house with a garden on the hills of Nagasaki. Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, a US Naval Officer, has fallen for the young geisha Cio-cio-san, introduced to him by Goro, a marriage arranger. Pinkerton is about to marry her with the Japanese traditional custom, aware of the fact he will be able to call it off in order to marry an American woman. Cio-cio-san tells Sharpless, the American Consul, she was born in Nagasaki from what was a wealthy family a long time before and had then tumbled-down. That's the reason why she has become a geisha. While waiting for the ceremony to begin, Cio-cio-san confesses Pinkerton that the day before she had gone to the Temple to embrace Christianity, renouncing her own religion. Finally the wedding is celebrated, the Consul and the guests leave, while the relatives stay over with the spouses.
Inside the house of Cio-cio-san. She has been waiting Pinkerton's return for three years. He has left for the United States promising he was going to come back in spring and she still holds her hopes. Goro comes in with Sharpless, who has received a letter from Pinkerton with a message for Cio-cio-san. Sharpless doesn't have the courage to tell her that Pinkerton has re-married to an American wife and he's about to arrive to Nagasaki with her. Cio-cio-san tells the Consul about how Goro has been trying to convince her to re-marry. One of the pretenders is the rich Yamadori, who arrives shortly after with his servants. Cio-cio-san does not intend to re-marry because she still feels proudly married to Pinkerton. After Yamadori leaves, Sharpless reads Pinkerton's letter to Cio-cio-san. She feels she has got only two choices left: be a geisha once again or die. Sharpless encourages her to marry Yamadori but Cio-cio-san shows him the child she had from Pinkerton. The Consul is distressed and promises to tell Pinkerton about the child. A cannon shot announces a ship docking at the port. Cio-cio-san is full of joy. She orders to pick all the flowers from the garden to decorate the house and greet the husband. The night slowly fades away, Cio-cio-san has waited awake for the husband but she finally gives in and goes to rest with the child. She will be waken up at the husband arrival. Pinkerton arrives shortly after, together with Sharpless and Kate, the American wife who waits in the garden. Aware of the child, he has come to convince Cio-cio-san to give him the custody. Cio-cio-san wakes up and finds Sharpless and Kate and is informed about her identity. Kate asks forgiveness for the pain she has caused her unaware and she offers to look after the child. Cio-cio-san tells her she will hand the child only to Pinkerton if he will have the courage to show up half an hour later. As soon as she is alone, she takes a white veil and wraps it around the neck, gets her father's knife and is about to commit harakiri, when Suzuki pushes the child in the room. Cio-cio-san hugs him and after saying goodbye to him, blindfolds him and leaves him sat with an American flag in his hands. Then she goes behind the shield and takes her own life. At the same time, calling her name from the distance, arrives Pinkerton, who finds her and kneels down weeping next to her body.