East meets West with devastating consequences in Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s production of Puccini’s deeply poignant opera
Cio-Cio-San, the young Japanese bride of dashing American officer Lieutenant Pinkerton, finds her romantic idyll shattered when he deserts her shortly after their marriage. She lives in hope that one day he will return.
Giacomo Puccini was entranced by David Belasco’s play Madame Butterfly (based on a popular short story by John Luther Long) when he saw it in London in 1900. He harnessed the talents of librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (with whom Puccini had created La bohème and Tosca) to adapt Cio-Cio-San’s tragic tale for the operatic stage. Although the premiere at La Scala, Milan, in 1904 was poorly received, that same year Puccini revised and restaged the opera for performances in Brescia, to great acclaim. Madama Butterfly quickly became a hugely popular opera with performers and audiences alike, and remains one of Puccini’s most performed works.
Puccini drew on Japanese folk melodies for the score, one of his most evocative and atmospheric. In Act I, Cio-Cio-San expresses her radiant happiness in ‘Ancora un passo’, and the two lovers rapturously declare their love for each other in the passionate duet ‘Viene la sera’. In Act II the mood becomes increasingly strained, as in ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ when Cio-Cio-San longs for the ‘fine day’ when her husband will return to her. The romantic exoticism of 19th-century European images of Japan – an integral part of Madama Butterfly’s character – inspire Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s elegant production for The Royal Opera.
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