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  • by Giacomo Puccini
  • In Italian with projected English texts.

    Puccini's Madama Butterfly is a new-to-Chicago production. Coproduction of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, and Grand Théâtre de Genève.

  • Running time: 2h 52m

Puccini's heartbreaking tragedy comes to Lyric in a breathtakingly beautiful production.

Family, fortune, and honor—the geisha Cio-Cio-San forsakes them all for the callous American naval officer who calls her his "bride." But what she sees as a lifetime commitment, he treats as just a fleeting pleasure.

Puccini's Madama Butterfly features some of opera's most famous music, including Cio-Cio-San's heartbreaking "Un bel di" and the beautiful "Humming Chorus."

Tony and Olivier Award winner Michael Grandage has produced landmark opera and musical-theater productions on both sides of the Atlantic. This Madama Butterfly is “subtle...refreshing...and breathtakingly beautiful.” Houston Chronicle

Lyric Opera coproduction of Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly generously made possible by Mr. and Mrs. J. Christopher Reyes, James N. and Laurie V. Bay, the Walter E. Heller Foundation in honor of Alyce H. DeCosta, and the Estate of Howard A. Stotler.

 

Starring

  • Amanda Echalaz

    Cio-Cio-San

    Amanda Echalaz

    October 15-30

    Amanda Echalaz's Tosca made her the toast of London. Now she takes on Puccini's gentler heroine. "She's sensational." The Guardian

  • Patricia Racette

    Cio-Cio-San

    Patricia Racette

    January 11-26

    Patricia Racette: Her Cio-Cio-San is "quite simply revelatory...one of the most beautiful interpretations in memory." Opera News

  • James Valenti

    Pinkerton

    James Valenti

    October 15-30

    From La Scala to London, James Valenti makes his mark with his splendid voice and acting prowess. “His Pinkerton is the archetypal all-American hunk.” The Guardian, London

  • Stefano Secco

    Pinkerton

    Stefano Secco

    January 11-26

    Stefano Secco: This tenor lives and breathes the role of Pinkerton—“here is gorgeous, nuanced Italianate tenor singing” that audiences everywhere crave. Opera News

Madama Butterfly - Amanda Echalaz

Cio-Cio-San
Amanda Echalaz*
 Oct. 15–30 

Madama Butterfly - Patricia Racette

Cio-Cio-San
Patricia Racette
 Jan. 11–26 

Madama Butterfly - James Valenti

Pinkerton
James Valenti*
Oct. 15–30 

Madama Butterfly - Stefano Secco

Pinkerton
Stefano Secco* Jan. 11–26 

Madama Butterfly - Mary Anne McCormick

Suzuki
MaryAnn McCormick

Madama Butterfly - Christopher Purves

Sharpless
Christopher Purves* 

Madama Butterfly - David Cangelosi

Goro
David Cangelosi† †

Madama Butterfly - David Govertsen

Bonze
David Govertsen† †

Madama Butterfly - Laura Wilde

Kate Pinkerton
Laura Wilde† 

Madama Butterfly - Anthony Clark Evans

Yamadori
Anthony Clark Evans† 

Madama Butterfly - Richard Ollarsaba

Commissioner
Richard Ollarsaba† 

Madama Butterfly - Will Liverman

Registrar
Will Liverman† 

Madama Butterfly - Marco Armiliato

Conductor
Marco Armiliato*

 

Madama Butterfly - Michael Grandage

Original Director
Michael Grandage*

 

Madama Butterfly - Louisa Muller

Revival Director
Louisa Muller

 

Madama Butterfly - Christpher Oram

Designer
Christopher Oram*

 

 

Original Lighting Designer
Neil Austin* 

 

Chorus Master
Michael Black

 

 

Choreographer
Nicole Tongue*

 

*Lyric Debut
† current member, Ryan Opera Center
† † alumnus/ alumna, Ryan Opera Center

  Madama Butterfly—The Story of the Opera 

PLACE: Nagasaki, Japan
TIME: 1904

ACT ONE
A Japanese house and garden overlooking Nagasaki Harbor

U. S. Navy Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton inspects the house he has leased from Goro, a marriage broker. Goro has procured him – for 99 years but subject to monthly renewal – three servants and a geisha wife, Cio-Cio-San (known as Madame Butterfly). Sharpless, the American consul, arrives breathless from climbing the hill. With a glass of whiskey in hand, Pinkerton describes his carefree philosophy of a Navy man roaming the world in search of pleasure (Duet: Dovunque al mondo). For the moment, he is enchanted with the fragile Cio-Cio-San and intends to go through a marriage ceremony with her. When Sharpless warns that the girl may not take her vows so lightly, Pinkerton brushes aside the consul’s concern, asking him todrink to the day that he will marry a “real” American wife. At that moment, Cio-Cio-San and her friends are heard in the distance. The girl appears, proclaiming that she is answering the call of love (Entrance Scene: Ancora un passo or via).
Cio-Cio-San tells Pinkerton how, when her family fell on hard times, she had to earn her living as a geisha. Soon her relatives arrive and noisily express their opinions regarding the marriage. When she finds a quiet moment, Cio-Cio-San shows her bridegroom her few earthly treasures, and explains her intention to embrace his Christian faith. With much pomp, the Imperial Commissioner performs the wedding ceremony, after which the guests toast the couple. Suddenly Cio-Cio-San’s uncle, the Bonze – a Buddhist priest – bursts upon the scene, cursing the girl for having renounced her ancestors’ religion. Pinkerton angrily orders him and the rest of the family to leave.
Finally alone with Cio-Cio-San, Pinkerton dries his bride’s tears and reminds her that night is falling (Duet: Viene la sera…Bimba dagl’ occhi pieni di malìa). Helped by her maid Suzuki into a bridal kimono, Cio-Cio-San joins the ardent Pinkerton in the moonlit garden.

Intermission

ACT TWO
The same place, three years later

Three years after Pinkerton has returned to the United States, Cio-Cio-San still awaits her husband’s return. After praying to the Japanese gods for aid, Suzuki informs Cio-Cio-San that they will have no money left if Pinkerton takes much longer. Cio-Cio-San urges Suzuki to have faith: One lovely day the ship will appear on the horizon (Aria: Un bel dì vedremo). Sharpless arrives with a letter from Pinkerton, but before he can read it to Cio-Cio-San, Goro brings in the latest of a long list of suitors. Cio-Cio-San dismisses both Goro and the wealthy Prince Yamadori, insisting that her American husband has not deserted her. When they are alone, Sharpless again starts to read the letter to Cio-Cio-San, suggesting as tactfully as he can that Pinkerton may never return. Proudly bringing in their child, Cio-Cio-San declares that as soon as Pinkerton knows of his son, he will surely come back. If Pinkerton does not come back, Cio-Cio-San could return to life as an impoverished entertainer, but she would prefer to die (Aria: Che tua madre). Promising to tell the lieutenant about his son, Sharpless sadly leaves. Cio-Cio-San, on the point of despair, is startled to hear a cannon report; she observes Pinkerton’s ship entering the harbor. Nearly delirious with excitement, she asks Suzuki to help her scatter flower petals everywhere (Duet: Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio). Then as night falls, she puts on her wedding kimono and, with her son and Suzuki, waits patiently for her husband’s return (Humming Chorus).

ACT THREE
The next morning

As dawn breaks, Suzuki insists that Cio-Cio-San rest. Singing quietly to her child (Lullaby: Dormi amor mio), she takes him to another room. Within a few moments Pinkerton arrives, accompanied by his new wife, Kate, along with Sharpless. Suzuki greets the two men joyfully, but when she realizes who Kate is, she collapses in misery. Out of consideration for her mistress, she agrees to help in breaking the news to her (Trio: Io so che alle sue pene). Pinkerton, overcome with remorse, bids an anguished farewell to the scene of his former happiness (Aria: Addio, fiorito asil) and rushes away.
No sooner is he gone than Cio-Cio-San appears, expecting to find Pinkerton but finding Kate and Sharpless instead. Quickly guessing the truth, she agrees to give up her child if the father will return for him in half an hour. Then, sending even Suzuki away, she takes out the dagger with which her own father committed suicide years before (Death Scene: Con onor muore). As she prepares for the seppuku ritual, Suzuki pushes the child into the room. Cio-Cio-San pauses and asks her son to look into her face so that he can remember her. She stabs herself, and Pinkerton returns just in time to witness her last moments of life.

A New Butterfly Alights at Lyric

by Jack Zimmerman

If you compiled a list of the most popular operas seen throughout the world in any given year, Madama Butterfly would be at or near the top.

Giacomo Puccini’s 1904 East-meets West tragedy fires up the same emotions as it did more than a century ago.

Madama Butterfly began as a short story, written in 1898 by American lawyer and author John Luther Long. The famously flamboyant Broadway playwright/director/producer David Belasco dramatized it.

Puccini saw Belasco’s tear-jerker in London and was deeply touched, even though his understanding of English was limited. “The more I think of Madama Butterfly,” he wrote to his publisher Ricordi, “the more irresistibly am I attracted.” His librettists for La bohème, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, did the honors for Madama Butterfly as well, and the opera premiered at Milan’s La Scala in 1904.

Here’s how Puccini biographer Mosco Carner views Madama Butterfly

Though couched interms of a melodrama, it contains an element of true tragedy. The catastrophe is the inevitable corollary of the geisha’s character; ecause she is what she is, she cannot act otherwise than she does. Faced by three alternatives—marriage to Prince Yamadori or resumption of her former profession or death– she makes the most courageous choice. Caught in a moral conflict, she solves it by self-annihilation and thus grows to a heroine in the true sense of the word.

Madama  Butterfly will once again come to Lyric in 2013-14, the fifteenth season in company history that has included this Puccini opera. It made its first appearance here in 1955; in the only staged performances of the role that she ever sang, Maria Callas portrayed Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly). This season Lyric audiences will be treated to a new-to-Chicago production by debuting director Michael Grandage, with sets and costumes by Christopher Oram and lighting by Neil Austin.This is the creative team responsible for Red, John Logan’s play about artist Mark Rothko, which swept the 2010 Tony Awards.

This Madama Butterfly production was first seen at Houston Grand Opera in 2010, when Lyric’s current general director, AnthonyFreud, held that position with the company. “Michael Grandage is a director whose work I’ve known for years,” says Freud. “I’ve seen many of his shows and gotto know him when he was artistic director of an important regional theater in the north of England.” Freud discovered that Grandage had an interest in opera, and soon the two were thinking about a new Butterfly for HGO. “The most challenging operas for new productions are the operas that are most popular and familiar,” says Freud. “What’s necessary in offering a new production is finding a way of both satisfying our audience’s expectations and at the same time, recapturing something of the energy, intensity, and theatrical impact that these great pieces had when they were brand new. In Michael I felt we had a director who would be absolutely true to the text, the music, the narrative, and the characters. And he would breathe life into Butterfly’s relationships with Suzuki, Sharpless, and Pinkerton.The idea was for us to see the piece with fresh eyes and hear it with fresh ears.”

The results were thrilling, as Lyric audiences will discover when Butterfly opens October 15 and runs for five performances with South African soprano Amanda Echalaz as Cio-Cio-San and American tenor James Valenti as Pinkerton (both Lyric debuts).The six January performances have American soprano—and Lyric favorite—Patricia Racette as the ill-fated heroine, opposite the Pinkerton of Italian tenor Stefano Secco (debut). The remaining cast members, who sing alperformances, are MaryAnn McCormick as Suzuki, Christopher Purves (debut) as Sharpless, and David Cangelosi as Goro. The conductor is Marco Armiliato (debut). Michael Black is chorus master.

“The point ofthe production is to go back to the basics and tell the story simply, clearly, and in a very detailed way,” says Louisa Muller, who assisted Michael Grandage for the 2010 Houston production and will direct it at Lyric. “Visually the production is stunning, but going beyond that, it focuses on the relationships and the characters in a nuanced way. There’s nothing extraneous in it. You go away from this Butterfly feeling that everything in the production is completely necessary.”

“It’s a production that looks incredibly beautiful,” says Freud. “Fairly spare in appearance but unequivocally set in 19th century Japan, it’s not a production that seeks to transplant the story to a different era.That’s not Michael’s way of working. But in its sparseness and lack of clutter it develops the intensity of Greek tragedy. The stage in all its simplicity and beauty is evocative of 19th-century Japan, and the characters are always in sharp focus.”

The main characters are all very captivating. It’s easy to become committed to each of them.

“Butterfly has a certain strength about her,” says Muller, who has experience with Puccini heroines—she directed last season’s La bohème here. “Even in the first scene where Butterfly is hopeful and quite naïve, she still has real strength. She’s already renounced her religion for this marriage. In the second and third acts, she remains hopeful, which, of course, is heartbreaking. She maintains her strength and she makes her final sacrifice not because of weakness, but because she sees taking her own life as the best thing she could possibly do.

“Pinkerton is difficult because it’s hard for us to like him. In the very first scene, he talks about his union with Butterfly not being a real marriage. He’s looking forward to the marriage he’ll have someday with an American wife. Still, there’s a charm about him. He doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions until it’s too late.Then he’s so remorseful that you almost like him—even though he’s done this terrible thing.

“Suzuki is a beautiful character. Through every step of the opera, she’s always there for Butterfly—it’s the closest bond that either of them has.There’s always a deep love between them.

“Sharpless is the conscience of the piece. From the very beginning he’s trying to warn Pinkerton what might happen. In Act Two, he’s left with the unenviable task of breaking the hard news to Butterfly. He has a gravitas about him. He’s a truly good man.”

The story the characters find themselves in is a three-act tragedy tha ttakes place in a house high on a hill overlooking Nagasaki, Japan. Lieutenant Pinkerton of the U. S. Navy marries 15-year-old Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly). She takes the marriage seriously. He does not. Pinkerton ships out and leaves her pregnant in his leased house. He returns three years later with an American wife and tells Butterfly they want to adopt Butterfly’s child. Butterfly reads the inscription on her father’s suicide knife, “Death with honor is better than life without it.” She then kills herself.

“This production of Madama Butterfly allows people to get to the heart of the piece that audiences might take for granted,” says Freud. “If our hearts don’t break for Butterfly, we as an opera company are not doing our job. If all we do is remind people that Butterfly has great tunes, we’re failing in our responsibility. Of course, we have to deliver the great tunes as memorably as our audiences have ever heard them. But a great opera is more than great tunes—a great opera is great music theater. And what this production does is bring this piece to life in an extraordinarily moving and vivid way.”

Further Reading

Verdi and Puccini Heroines: Dramatic Characterization in Great Soprano Roles by Geoffrey Edwards and Ryan Edwards, Scarecrow Press, 2003. New perspectives on these compelling female characters come from a discussion of text, music, and staging.

The Complete Operas of Puccini: A Critical Guid e by Charles Osborne, Da Capo Press, 1983. A most accessible guide, containing splendid introductions to all the operas.

Giacomo Puccini: His Life and Works by Julian Budden, Oxford University Press, Master Musicians Series, 2002. Masterful work of biographical narrative and musical analysis from one of the foremost Puccini scholars.

Madame Butterfly by John Luther Long, Rutgers University Press, 2002. Also includes a novella by Winnifred Eaton (who wrote under the name of Onoto Watanna) A Japanese Nightingale, originally published in 1901.

The Operas of Puccini by William Ashbrook, Cornell University Press, 1985. Engaging and economical biography paired with analytical essentials.

Puccini: A Biography by Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, Northeastern University Press, 2002. As with her celebrated text on Verdi, Phillips-Matz gives an extraordinary degree of informed detail.

The Puccini Companion edited by William Weaver and Simonetta Puccini, Norton, 1994. A collection of fascinating essays on various aspects of Puccini’s works curated by a leading scholar and translator of Italian opera along with the heir and keeper of the Villa Puccini.

Madama Butterfly Discovery Series

Puccini’s East-meets-West heartbreaker is one of the most popular operas of all time. Amanda Echalaz (Cio-Cio-San), James Valenti (Pinkerton), and conductor Marco Armiliato discuss how this early 20th century blockbuster engages us on many different levels. Moderated by dramaturg Roger Pines.

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Madama Butterfly Audio Preview

Music director Sir Andrew Davis shares the synopsis and excerpts from Puccini's masterpiece. Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics.

 

Madama Butterfly Commentary

Madama Butterfly 
by Giacomo Puccini

© 2013/14 Lyric Opera Commentaries 

Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by Mark Travis, Producer.

 

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