Anthony Minghella’s stunning production of Puccini’s heartbreaking opera, an instant Met classic since its 2006 premiere, returns with Hui He and Ermonela Jaho in the tragic title role of the trusting geisha. Roberto Aronica and Luis Chapa alternate as her callous American lover, Pinkerton, and Jader Bignamini and Marco Armiliato conduct.
World premiere: Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 1904. Met premiere: February 11, 1907. The title character of Madama Butterfly—a young Japanese geisha who clings to the belief that her arrangement with a visiting American naval officer is a loving and permanent marriage—is one of the defining roles in opera. The story triggers ideas about cultural and sexual imperialism for people far removed from the opera house, and film, Broadway, and popular culture in general have riffed endlessly on it. The lyric beauty of Puccini’s score, especially the music for the thoroughly believable lead role, has made Butterfly timeless.
Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924) was immensely popular in his own lifetime, and his mature works remain staples in the repertory of most of the world’s opera companies. His librettists for Madama Butterfly, Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, had also collaborated with the composer on his previous two operas, Tosca and La Bohème. Giacosa, a dramatist, was responsible for the stories and Illica, a poet, worked primarily on the words themselves.
Production – Anthony Minghella
Costume Designer – Han Feng
Director & Choreographer – Carolyn Choa
Lighting Designer – Peter Mumford
Set Designer – Michael Levine
Puppetry – Blind Summit Theatre
The opera takes place in the Japanese port city of Nagasaki at the turn of the last century, at a time of expanding American international presence. Japan was hesitantly defining its global role, and Nagasaki was one of the country’s few ports open to foreign ships. Temporary marriages for foreign sailors were not unusual.
Conductor – Jader Bignamini
Conductor – Marco Armiliato
Hui He – Cio Cio San
Ermonela Jako – Cio Cio San
Maria Zifchak – Suzuki
Roberto Aronica – Pinkerton
Luis Chapa – Pinkerton
David Bizic – Sharpless
Dwayne Croft – Sharpless
Roberto Frontali – Sharpless
Puccini achieved a new level of sophistication with his use of the orchestra in this score, with subtle colourings and sonorities throughout. But the opera rests squarely on the performer of the title role: on stage for most of the time, Cio-Cio-San is the only character that experiences true (and tragic) development. The singer must convey an astounding array of emotions and characteristics, from ethereal to fleshly to intelligent to dreamy-bordering-on-insane, to resigned in the final scene.
In 1907, Giacomo Puccini came to the United States for the first time for the Met premiere of Madama Butterfly. Geraldine Farrar (pictured) sang the title role, and her 139 appearances in this opera remain a Met record. While in New York, Puccini attended a Broadway performance of David Belasco’s play The Girl of the Golden West, which would become the basis for his next opera.