Madama Butterfly

From Academic Kids

Madama Butterfly (Madam Butterfly) is an opera in three acts (originally two acts) by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on the book by John Luther Long and the drama by David Belasco.

The first version, which premiered February 17, 1904 at La Scala in Milan was comprised of two acts. This version was very poorly received and in four months Madama Butterfly was re-released in Brescia. This revision split the disproportionately long second act in half and included some other minor changes. This time, Puccini's masterpiece was a huge success, moving to the Metropolitan Opera in 1907. Today, the opera is appreciated in two acts in Italy, while in America the three act version is more popular.



  • Principle roles
    • Madama Butterfly (Cio-cio-san) - Soprano
    • B.F. Pinkerton, Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy - Tenor
    • Sharpless, U.S. Consul at Nagasaki - Baritone
  • Minor roles
  • Other


Time: 1904.
Place:Nagasaki, Japan.

Act I (Three Act Version)

In the first act Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton, a sailor aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln marries Cio-Cio-San (pr. Chocho-san), or Madama Butterfly, a fifteen year old Japanese geisha. Goro, a marriage-broker, has arranged the match, and has rented a little house on the hillside for them to live in. The American consul, Sharpless, a kind-hearted man, begs Pinkerton to forego this plan, because the girl believes the marriage to be binding. The lieutenant laughs at him, and the bride appears with her geisha friends, joyous and smiling. Sharpless finds that to show her trust in Pinkerton she has renounced the faith of her ancestors so that she can never return to her own people. (Butterfly: "Hear what I would tell you.") Pinkerton also learns that she is the daughter of a disgraced samurai who committed seppuku, and so the little girl was sold to be trained as geisha. The marriage contract is signed and the guests are drinking a toast to the young couple, when the bonze, a Buddist monk, ( uncle of Cio-Cio-San, and presumably having entered the monastary in disgrace after the father's seppuku) enters, uttering imprecations against her for having taken to the foreign faith, and induces her friends and relatives to abandon her. Pinkerton, annoyed, hurries the guests off, and they depart in anger. With loving words he consoles the weeping bride, and the two begin their new life happily. (Duet, Pinkerton, Butterfly: "Just like a little squirrel"; Butterfly: "But now, beloved, you are the world"; "Ah! night of rapture.")

Act II

Act two begins three years later. Pinkerton's tour of duty is over, and he has returned to the United States, having promised to return "When the robins nest again." Suzuki, Butterfly's faithful servant, rightly suspects that he has abandoned them, but is upbraided for want of faith by her trusting mistress. (Butterfly: "Weeping? and why?") Meanwhile, Sharpless has been deputed by Pinkerton in a letter to tell Butterfly that he has married an American wife. Seeing her wonderful faith, the consul cannot bear to destroy it. Butterfly is so wild with delight at the sight of her lover's letter that she is unable to comprehend its contents. She believes Pinkerton is coming back to her, and in her joy refuses to listen to Yamadori, a rich suitor brought by Goro, saying that she is already married. Goro tries to explain that a wife abandoned is a wife divorced, but she declares proudly, "That may be Japanese custom, but I am now an American." Sharpless cannot move her, and at last, as if to settle all doubt, she proudly shows him her fair-haired child, saying, "Can my husband forget this?" The consul departs sadly. But Butterfly has long been a subject of gossip, and Suzuki catches the duplicitous Goro spreading more. Just as things cannot seem worse, distant guns salute the new arrival of a man-of-war, the Abraham Lincoln, Pinkerton's ship. Butterfly and Suzuki, in wild excitement, deck the house with flowers, and array themselves and the child in gala dress. All three peer through shoji doors to watch for Pinkerton's coming. As the night passes, a long orchestral pasage plays as Suzuki and the child gradually fall asleep - but Butterfly, alert and sleepless, never stirs.


Act three opens at dawn with Butterfly still intently watching. Suzuki awakens and brings the baby to her. (Butterfly: "Sweet, thou art sleeping.") She persuades the exhausted girl to rest. Pinkerton and Sharpless arrive and tell Suzuki the terrible truth, but the lieutenant is deeply stricken with gulit and shame (Pinkerton: "Oh, the bitter fragrance of these flowers!"). Too cowardly to tell her in person, he cannot remain, but leaves the thankless task to his unfortunate wife. Suzuki, at first violently angry, is finally persuaded to listen as Sharpless tells her that Mrs. Pinkerton will care for the child if Butterfly will give him up. Butterfly appears, radiant, expecting to see Pinkerton, but is confronted instead by his new wife, Kate. She receives the truth with pathetic calmness, politely congratulates her replacement, and asks her to tell her husband that in half an hour he may have the child, and that she herself will "find peace." Then having bowed her visitors out, she is left alone. At the appointed time Pinkerton and Sharpless return to find Madam Butterfly dead by her own hand (Finale, Butterfly: "You, O beloved idol!") after having bidden farewell to her little child. She had used as a weapon her father's sword, with the inscription: "To die with honour, when one can no longer live with honour." The now-humiliated, heartbroken daughter of a disgraced samurai, she will die proudly - as a samurai.

Noted arias

  • "Un bel dý" (Butterfly)
  • "Addio, fiorito asil" (Pinkerton)

Influences on popular culture

  • 1988: In the play M. Butterfly, Butterfly is denounced as a western stereotype of a timid, submissive Asian.
  • 1996: The second album by Weezer, "Pinkerton," takes its name from this opera. The last song on the album, "Butterfly" tells the story of the opera, and there are a few other mentions of it. (E.g. Cio-Cio San is referenced in "El Scorcho.")
  • 2004: On the 100th anniversary of Madama Butterfly, Shigeaki Saegusa composed Jr. Butterfly. The libretto was by Masahiko Shimada and the conductor was by Naoto Otomo. Tenor Shigehiro Sano performs Jr. Butterfly and soprano Shinobu Sato plays Naomi, his love. Jr. Butterfly is the story of what happens to the son of Madame Butterfly and Pinkerton. It is set before, during and after WWII. The half-Japanese half-American Jr. Butterfly is an intelligence officer for the Americans and falls in love with a Japanese girl. At the core of the story is the love story between Jr. Butterfly and the girl, but the opera covers a lot of ground such as the identity struggle of Jr. Butterfly's chanpon background and the intentions of the US vis a vis war with Japan before the war. With Madam Butterfly originally set in Nagasaki, the role of Nagasaki in the closure of the war ties it all together.


  • Van Wyck Farkas, Remy. Madama Butterfly Record Insert. 1952.
  • The Simon & Schuster Book of the Opera. 1977.
  • Plot originally taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.

External links

de:Madame Butterfly es:Madama Butterfly fr:Madame Butterfly it:Madama Butterfly fi:Madame Butterfly


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools