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ClassicsOnline Home » PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly (Tebaldi) (1951)
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
The first complete studio recording of Madama Butterfly was
made in 1922 in London using the acoustic recording process and was sung in
English featuring the New Zealand soprano Rosina Buckman and Welsh tenor Tudor
Davies in the two principal rôles. There followed two versions in the original
language, both recorded in Milan, the first with Rosetta Pampanini in 1928,
quickly followed by a second with the Irish-born soprano Margaret Sheridan.
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, a fourth version was made in
Rome in July 1939 with Toti Dal Monte (a somewhat surprising choice for a
singer who was regarded as the principal coloratura soprano of her time) and
Beniamino Gigli (Naxos 8.110183-4).
The first post-war recording of the opera was made in
America in 1949 with soloists of the Metropolitan Opera and included Eleanor
Steber and Richard Tucker in the main rôles. A little known and short-lived
Vienna-made recording with Daniza Ititsch, a Met favourite, followed in 1951,
the year in which Renata Tebaldi made the first of her two recordings.
Recorded in July 1951, the same month in which La Bohème
(Naxos 8.110252-3) was also made, the venue used was that of the Accademia
Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. The hall in question was long and narrow
but with a high ceiling plus a balcony which contained seats. The control room
was conveniently situated on the same ground floor level as the hall. It proved
perfectly suited to the needs of mono recording at that time.
Renata Tebaldi (b.1922) studied at the Boito Conservatorio
in Parma, before making her début as Elena in Mefistofele at Rovigo in 1944.
She sang for Toscanini at the opening concert at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan,
in 1946. Later that season she was engaged as Eva in Meistersinger and Mimì in
La Bohème. Her first appearance outside Italy was in Lisbon
in 1949 and the following year Tebaldi made her London début as Desdemona in
Otello when the La Scala Company appeared at Covent Garden. Her international
introduction came through her first American engagement as Aida in San
Francisco in 1950, soon followed by three seasons in Rio de Janeiro. The
Italian soprano first sang at the Metropolitan in New York in 1955, a house she
would grace for seventeen further seasons before retiring from the stage in
1973 and the concert hall three years later. Tebaldi appeared regularly at the
Vienna State Opera and also sang in Chicago and Japan. As the most significant
Italian lirico spinto soprano during her career, she also recorded
prolifically. At the time of this recording Tebaldi had not sung the rôle of
Butterfly on the stage but in no way is this evident from her wholehearted
interpretation. The creamy richness of her tone and the exquisiteness of her
effortlessly floated pianissimi are indeed most captivating. Possibly she does
not convey the schoolgirl bride but this is forgotten when her singing is so
well moulded and secure. She ‘rides’ the final scene most impressively, the
music for which is the most demanding Puccini wrote for the soprano voice other
than that for Turandot.
Giuseppe Campora (b.1923) studied in Genoa and Milan before
his début in 1949 as Rodolfo in La Bohème. His first La Scala appearance was as
Boris in Rocca’s L’uragano, followed by Rodolfo, Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur
and Orombello in Beatrice di Tenda. The Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires secured
his services in 1952 and Campora made regular appearances at the Metropolitan
in New York between 1955 and 1965. He sang all the principal tenor rôles widely
throughout Italy. In his later career he diversified into operetta. Campora’s
Pinkerton is sweetly sung and unaffected in manner with his easy, ringing upper
register a decided plus.
The baritone Giovanni Inghilleri (1894-1959) was virtually
in the twilight of his career when he recorded the rôle of the Consul Sharpless
but his portrayal of the rôle is both kindly and caring. During the inter-war
years he had enjoyed a considerable career in both America and Europe, also
recording the rôle of Amonasro in Aida in 1928. Inghilleri also sang in the
1951 recording of La Bohème with Tebaldi referred to above.
The role of Butterfly’s faithful servant Suzuki was
entrusted to the American mezzo-soprano Nell Rankin (b.1926) from Montgomery,
Alabama. She had studied in nearby Birmingham and later New York before joining
Zurich Opera in 1949. She later sang at La Scala and at the Vienna State Opera.
Her Metropolitan début was in 1951 where she appeared regularly for the next
twenty years. Her repertoire included Ortrud in Lohengrin, Gutrune in the Ring
and Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera. Her London début was as Carmen, a rôle
repeated two years later in San Francisco. She also sang Cassandra in Les
Troyens at La Scala in 1960. Rankin impressed more with her fullness of tone
and generous phrasing than vitality of character. Her few recordings included
the first ever of Vaughan Williams’ Five Tudor Portraits.
In the smaller rôles, Goro is sung by Piero di Palma
(b.1916), an artist who established himself to be the most notable and significant
second tenor and comprimario of the past fifty years. A greatly admired artist
in the principal Italian centres, he was always tasteful and most musical in
all his work. Di Palma also took part in almost fifty complete recordings. The
Bonze is sung by Fernando Corena (1916-1984), a Swiss bass, born of a Turkish
father and Italian mother in Geneva. After making his début in 1947 as Varlaam
in Boris Godunov, his first Metropolitan Opera engagement was in 1954 where he
would sing until 1978. Corena was a fine linguist and a witty comedian in buffo
rôles. His fellow buffo of an earlier generation, Melchiorre Luise (1899-1967)
sings the rôle of Prince Yamadori. Originally a baritone, he soon changed to a
bass, singing at La Scala from 1938 to 1943 and from 1951 until the early
1960s. Luise also appeared in Rome and Florence in addition to the Metropolitan
Opera in New York (1947-50) and Covent Garden.
The conductor Alberto Erede (1908-2001) was well known in
both Italy and Britain, and had conducted at Glyndebourne in 1938-39. He was
musical director of the short-lived but most enterprising New London Opera
Company at the Cambridge Theatre in the late 1940s. He was then hired by the
Metropolitan Opera in New York between 1950 and 1954 and became Generalmusikdirektor
at the Deutsche Opera am Rhein from 1958 to 1962. Erede also conducted
Lohengrin at Bayreuth in 1968. He recorded extensively, both complete operas
and as accompanist to singers and instrumentalists. He was much admired for his
excellent training of young singers and was a great believer in ensemble work.
His conducting of Butterfly is both attentive and sensitive but robust and
dramatic where needed.
The period is the present (1904). The scene is outside a
small Japanese house, set on a hill overlooking the port of Nagasaki. There is
a terrace and a garden, and, in the distance below, the harbour and city.
orchestra introduces Act I with a busy opening theme, followed by a second
theme of more overtly Japanese character. As the curtain rises, the obsequious
marriage-broker Goro is seen showing Pinkerton the delights of the little house
on the hill, and demonstrating the use of the partitions that screen one room
from another. Pinkerton is surprised at what he sees, to the delight of Goro,
who explains further. Pinkerton asks where the marriage chamber is, and Goro
shows how rooms can be made by moving the screen-walls. Pinkerton understands
that the building is as fragile as a house of cards, but Goro reassures him of
its solidity, and claps his hands. At this sign two men and a woman come in and
bow down before Pinkerton. Goro introduces them as Pinkerton’s wife’s servant,
a cook and a man-servant, naming them as Gentle Cloud, Rising Sun and Wafted
Spices. The first of these, Suzuki, remains kneeling and embarks on a long
speech, praising Pinkerton’s smile, and citing the sage Okunama on the subject.
She rises and follows Pinkerton who has moved away in the garden, assuring him
that a smile disentangles the web of sorrows. Pinkerton shows impatience and
Goro, sensing this, claps his hands again, and the three servants retire at
once into the house. All women are alike, Pinkerton remarks, and Goro now
expects the imminent arrival of Cio-Cio-San, since all is now ready. Goro
announces the approach of the wedding-party, the Registrar, the relations, the
American consul and the bride. Pinkerton asks if there are many relatives, and
Goro lists Cio-Cio-San’s mother, her grandmother, her uncle, the Bonze, who is
not likely to come, and a host of cousins, some two dozen of them. Pinkerton
and Butterfly will, of course, provide ample progeny, Goro continues, bowing obsequiously.
The voice of the consul Sharpless is heard, exhausted by the climb. Goro
announces the consul’s arrival, bowing down, and Pinkerton greets him, shaking
hands, and telling Goro to see to some refreshment. The view is a fine one,
Pinkerton points out; and the place is high up, Sharpless complains, but
admires the distant city, the sea and the harbour. Pinkerton claims that the
house obeys the stroke of a wand and, as Goro bustles in, followed by two
servants with bottles and glasses, explains that he has bought the place for
999 years, with the right to leave it at a month’s notice, Japanese contracts
are as elastic as Japanese houses. Sharpless remarks that some have found this
profitable. They sit at a table on the terrace to take their refreshment.
sings in praise of the life of a roving Yankee, anchoring where he will. He
offers Sharpless milk punch or whisky, and goes on to explain how, one day, he
may sail away: life is to enjoy, a view that Sharpless finds a simple gospel,
but destroying the heart. Pinkerton, however, is happy to enjoy an arrangement
that he has undertaken for 999 years, but which can be abrogated at a month’s
notice. They raise their glasses to America, to the continued strains of The
Star-Spangled Banner. Pinkerton and Sharpless sit once more, and the latter
asks if the bride is beautiful, bringing from Goro praise of her beauty,
comparable to a garland of fresh flowers, a star with golden beams, and only
costing a hundred yen. He offers Sharpless an assortment of such beauties.
Pinkerton impatiently tells him to fetch Butterfly and he hurries away.
sings of his love, or passing fancy, the delicacy of Cio-Cio-San, like a figure
on a Japanese screen, a graceful butterfly. Sharpless tells Pinkerton that he
has not seen Butterfly, but heard her voice, when she visited the consulate:
her love for Pinkerton is sincere and should not be treated lightly. Pinkerton
offers his guest whisky and they drink to Pinkerton’s family in America and the
latter adds a toast to his future wife, a true American.
distant sound of Butterfly’s friends is heard, as Goro rushes in to announce
the imminent arrival of the wedding-party. Pinkerton and Sharpless move to the
back of the garden, from where they can see the road up the hill. The friends
of Butterfly are heard praising the beauty of the scene, the sky, the sea.
Butterfly herself adds her own voice to their admiration: she is the happiest
girl in Japan, in the world, at the call of love. The procession comes gradually
into view, many of the girls carrying different coloured parasols.
see Pinkerton, shut their parasols, and, after Butterfly, greet him. They
advance ceremoniously towards Pinkerton, who remarks on the difficulty of the
ascent to the house, but Butterfly declares her impatience to be there the
greater. Pinkerton with some irony offers his compliments, which Butterfly
ingenuously returns. Sharpless compliments Miss Butterfly and asks her if she
is from Nagasaki. She tells him that her family there was once prosperous:
no-one ever admits to being born poor and even a vagabond claims noble lineage,
but the strongest oaks can be uprooted in storms, and she is now a geisha.
Sharpless, interested, asks if she has sisters, but she tells him she has only
her mother - a noble lady, Goro adds - now impoverished. In reply to his
tactless question, she admits that her father is dead, as Goro looks
embarrassed and her companions fan themselves nervously. Sharpless asks
Butterfly how old she is and with child-like simplicity she asks him to guess:
ten - no, more than that; twenty - no, fifteen, an old woman. The age for
children’s games, says Sharpless, and for sweets, adds Pinkerton.
now announces the arrival of important officials, the Imperial Commissioner and
the Registrar. Butterfly’s relatives appear, greeting her friends and regarding
the two Americans with some curiosity, to Pinkerton’s expressed amusement. The
officials greet Pinkerton and are taken into the house by Goro. [Butterfly’s
relations now express their opinions of Pinkerton, who may not be handsome, but
is presumably rich. Pinkerton guesses his mother-in-law to be somewhere among
the open fans and identifies Butterfly’s drunken fool of an uncle, Yakusidé.
Butterfly’s family is equally uncomplimentary, expecting the worst of the
match, while Goro goes among them, telling them to speak more softly. They
continue their disparagement: Yakusidé hopes for wine, but there is not even
tea for the guests. Some express more complimentary views on Pinkerton’s
appearance, while Butterfly’s cousin claims that Goro had given her first
choice in the matter, but she had turned him down. At a sign from Goro the
guests come together in a group, still chattering among themselves. Sharpless
congratulates Pinkerton, who is happy with the girl who has turned his head.
Sharpless warns him that Butterfly is serious in her affection, while she calls
her mother and relatives, childishly instructing them to bow to Pinkerton and
visitors disperse, some to see the garden, some the house. Pinkerton takes
Butterfly’s hand and leads her towards the house, asking what she thinks of it.
She takes out some of the precious things she has brought with her, carried in
the sleeves of her kimono, and hands these objects over to Suzuki,
neckerchiefs, a pipe, a sash, a little clasp, a looking-glass, a fan, a
cosmetic jar. The last of these she throws aside, suspecting Pinkerton’s
displeasure. Finally she holds something more precious, not for all to see, which
she carries into the house. Goro, who has reappeared, explains in Pinkerton’s
ear that it is a present from the Emperor to Butterfly’s father, with a command
that he had obeyed. Butterfly returns with the Ottokid. Pinkerton examines them
curiously, and Butterfly explains that these are the souls of her ancestors.
She tells him how she has visited the Christian mission, but her uncle, the
Bonze, knows nothing of it: she must follow the god of Pinkerton, to kneel in
prayer with him to the same deity and forget her own gods. She throws herself
into his arms, but then holds back, afraid to be overheard by her family.
opens the room-screen, revealing everything ready for the wedding. Sharpless is
there, with the officials, and Butterfly enters and kneels, while Pinkerton
stands, with the relatives in the garden now kneeling. Japanese bells sound,
and the Imperial Commissioner announces permission for Lieutenant Benjamin
Franklin Pinkerton of the ship Lincoln, an officer of the American navy, to
marry the girl Butterfly, he by his own will, she by permission of her family.
Pinkerton signs the marriage document, followed by Butterfly, and Goro
announces that all is completed. Her friends come forward to congratulate
Butterfly, now Madama F. B. Pinkerton. The officials bring their task to an end
and the Commissioner congratulates Pinkerton, who thanks him. He accompanies
Sharpless out, the latter promising to see Pinkerton the next day. The
Registrar takes his leave, to go down with the other two to the city, but
Sharpless turns with one last word of warning to Pinkerton. Now I am with my
family, Pinkerton remarks to himself, as servants offer sake to the guests. He
drinks their health, and they in turn toast the newly married pair.
scene is interrupted by angry cries from the path, at which the company grows
pale with alarm. Cio-Cio-San, the voice shouts, abomination. It is Butterfly’s
uncle, the Bonze, who makes his appearance, preceded by two porters bearing
lanterns and followed by two bonzes. The Bonze stretches a threatening hand
towards Butterfly and demands an account of what she has done at the Christian
mission. Pinkerton is angry, but the Bonze continues, his question repeated by
Butterfly’s relations, scandalised at this revelation of her infidelity. She
covers her face with her hands and her mother steps forward to defend her,
while the Bonze pushes her back and shouts menacingly at the girl, threatening
eternal punishment on her soul. Pinkerton interrupts, impatient. The Bonze,
surprised, turns to the guests and tells them to come away with him, leaving
the renegade. Pinkerton bids them all be gone: in his house he wants no
disturbance and no priest-craft. At his words they all hurry towards the path,
to return down to the city. Her mother tries to approach Butterfly, but is
prevented by the others, and the Bonze and his acolytes take the same path down
the hill, leaving Butterfly and Pinkerton alone. She remains for a time, her
hands over her face, while Pinkerton goes to the head of the path to see that
they have all gone. The menacing voices of her uncle and relatives are heard,
as they descend the path, while evening falls.
approaches her and gently takes her hands away from her face, telling her not
to cry, but she can still hear their curses. Pinkerton assures her that all her
family and all the Bonzes in Japan are not worth her tears. She begins to be
comforted and kisses his hand, a sign, she thinks, of respect among educated
people. The voice of Suzuki is heard, at her prayers, as Butterfly explains to
Pinkerton. It grows darker, as Pinkerton leads Butterfly towards the house.
evening draws on, he tells her, but she cannot forget what she had heard: now
she is alone and a renegade to her faith. Pinkerton claps his hands and Suzuki
and the servants come running in. He tells them to shut the house for the
night: now they are alone, she says, and with no mad Bonze to worry them, he
adds. Suzuki comes to prepare Butterfly for the night. Butterfly, helped by
Suzuki, prepares herself for the night, taking off her bridal dress, and
donning a white robe. She sits on a cushion and looks at herself in the glass.
tells her of his love for her, now she is his alone. Dressed in white, she is
like the goddess of the moon. They stand together, looking at the heavens. She
has a moment of fear, as if hearing again the cries of her family, but then
turns again to Pinkerton, whose love will put to flight all sorrow.
has fallen. Butterfly kneels before Pinkerton and looks at him with tender
supplication, seeking his love, but when he compares her with a real butterfly,
she takes fright: in America butterflies are caught and killed with a needle
through the body, fixed to a board. That, Pinkerton assures her, is so that
they do not fly away. Comforted she looks again at the beauty of the stars, as
Pinkerton leads her into the house.
Act II Part 1
scene is inside Butterfly’s house. The room is half in darkness, with the
screen-doors closed. Suzuki is praying before an image of the Buddha, from time
to time sounding the prayer-bell. Butterfly stands in thought, as Suzuki’s
prayers continue, begging the gods to comfort her mistress. Butterfly finds the
gods of Japan useless: the American god is better, but he does not know where
she lives. Suzuki rises and opens the screen-door to the garden, and Butterfly
asks her how much money they have left. Suzuki takes up a little moneybox and
shows her how little they now have: if Pinkerton does not return soon, they
will be in the greatest difficulties. Butterfly is still confident, otherwise
why should Pinkerton have asked the consul to continue providing for them or
have seen to locks for the house. Suzuki has never heard of a foreign husband
who came back again, but Butterfly tells her to be quiet: he had promised to
return when the roses bloom and the robin builds his nest. Suzuki remains
sceptical, but her mistress is confident.
fine day, we shall see smoke on the horizon and then his ship will appear,
white in the harbour. Butterfly will wait for him, and will see a little white
figure emerge from the city, gradually, as he climbs the hill, revealing
Pinkerton. For a moment she will tease him by hiding and then reveal herself,
and all will be as before.
and Sharpless enter the garden. Goro looks at the house and tells Sharpless to
go in, before moving off into the garden. The consul knocks gently at the inner
screen-door, calling her name. She corrects him: she is Madame Pinkerton. She
turns and recognises Sharpless, delighted to welcome him to an American house,
while Suzuki sets a table with material for smoking. The consul sits down clumsily
on a cushion, regarded with amusement by Butterfly, who asks politely after his
ancestors, as she signals to Suzuki to prepare a pipe for him. He takes a
letter from his pocket, the purpose of his visit, while Butterfly takes a puff
at the pipe, before handing it to him. He refuses it, and she offers him
American cigarettes, now rather dry, but he again refuses. Coming at last to
the point, Sharpless tells her that he has had a letter from Pinkerton,
interrupted by her exclamations of delight. Suzuki is preparing tea, and
Butterfly asks the consul if he can tell her when robins nest in America, a
question he finds puzzling, until she explains that that is when Pinkerton has
said he will return. Goro, meanwhile, has approached and is listening to what she
says. He laughs at her ingenuous trust in her husband and she catches sight of
him and acknowledges his presence, not wanting him, though, to overhear her
conversation. Sharpless, in any case, cannot tell her about the nesting habits
of the robin, and will not explain the meaning of her husband’s promise.
tells him that Goro has been pestering her with offers of marriage from various
suitors, particularly one idiot. Here Goro interrupts, telling the consul that
the suitor is the rich man Yamadori: Butterfly has been cast off by her family
and she is poor. At this moment the palanquin of Yamadori is seen approaching.
He descends and greets the consul and Butterfly, who remains kneeling in the
room, while he takes a seat on the terrace. Butterfly mocks her suitor, whose
divorces have left him free. Yamadori, however, would be faithful to her.
Sharpless expresses his fears of revealing the contents of the letter he holds,
while Goro urges the suit of Yamadori, and Butterfly declares herself married by
American law, not Japanese, to the increased dismay of Sharpless. American
laws, she declares, are different, and magistrates punish husbands who try to
desert their wives. She breaks off to tell Suzuki to bring tea. The men can do
nothing: Sharpless is worried at her credulity, while Goro says that
Pinkerton’s ship has already been signalled. Sharpless tells them that he has
come to undeceive Butterfly, whose return with tea cuts short the conversation.
She offers tea to Sharpless and, opening her fan, gestures disparagingly at the
other two, who now take their leave. Yamadori still hopes for success, but bids
Sharpless farewell and steps into his palanquin.
sits down and courteously invites Butterfly to be seated, drawing Pinkerton’s
letter from his pocket. She takes the letter, kisses it and holds it to her
heart: Pinkerton is the best man in the world. She hands the letter back and
prepares to listen to its contents. Sharpless reads out aloud. Pinkerton tells
him to seek out that beautiful flower of a girl - does he really say that,
Butterfly asks. Three years have now passed - Butterfly interrupts again, in
praise of Pinkerton’s accuracy - and perhaps Butterfly no longer remembers him.
Again she interrupts, calling Suzuki to witness her fidelity. If she still
wishes him well and still waits for him - sweet words, she cries - Sharpless
must carefully prepare her for the blow. Butterfly does not understand the
import of the words: Pinkerton is coming back, and she is overjoyed. Sharpless
puts the letter back in his pocket, cursing Pinkerton under his breath, and
asks Butterfly what she will do if Pinkerton never comes back.
Act 2, part 1 (continued)
pauses, dumbfounded, and then replies with childish innocence, telling the consul
that she can do two things, return to her life singing to entertain people or,
better, die. Sharpless, moved, turns and takes her hands in his, urging her, in
a fatherly tone, to accept Yamadori. She withdraws her hands: how can Sharpless
give her such advice? He is nonplussed, and Butterfly claps her hands,
summoning Suzuki to see the consul out. Suddenly sorry for her haste, she sends
Suzuki out again, and Sharpless apologizes for his cruelty. Butterfly tells him
he has caused her great pain. She staggers for a moment, but recovers: she
seemed for a moment to die, death like a cloud passing over the sea.
asks if Sharpless has forgiven her, and, suddenly resolute, runs into the room
to the left and returns, triumphantly holding her child, something that
Pinkerton cannot ignore. She sets the child down on the floor and asks
Sharpless if he has ever seen a Japanese child with blue eyes, lips like this,
and golden hair. Pinkerton, she tells him, does not know, because the child was
born after he left: the consul must write and tell him that his son is waiting
for him and he must hurry home. She kneels by the side of the boy and kisses
him tenderly: surely Pinkerton cannot hesitate.
holds the boy up again: must his mother now carry him through wind and rain
through the city and beg, to keep them both in food and clothing, crying out
for charity? While the child plays unconcernedly with a doll, she laments that
she must dance and sing, as a geisha once more, her song of joy ending in
sorrow. She throws herself on her knees before Sharpless, declaring death
preferable to such a fate, and falling to the floor by the side of her child,
whom she now embraces passionately. Butterfly excuses herself for the moment
and gently offers Sharpless her hand, then putting the child’s hand in the
consul’s. He admires the boy and asks his name. She tells him that today his
name is Dolore (Sorrow), but the day his father returns he will be Gioia (Joy).
Sharpless promises to let Pinkerton know. Sharpless takes his leave.
voice of Suzuki is heard, shouting abuse, and she comes into the room, dragging
in Goro, who tries in vain to break away. She tells Butterfly that this vampire
has been spreading rumours about the paternity of the child. Goro justifies
himself, claiming that he has only said that in America a child like this would
be an outcast all his life. With a cry Butterfly seizes a knife from the
household shrine and accuses Goro of lying. He falls to the ground, calling out
in fear, while Butterfly threatens him with death, if he repeats such a lie.
Suzuki picks the child up and carries him into the room on the left. Butterfly
spurns Goro with her foot, and he makes his escape. She stands motionless for a
moment, and then puts the knife back, thinking now of her child, to her both a
sorrow and a comfort: his father and protector will come and take him away to a
far land. At this moment the sound of a cannon is heard.
sees a warship in the harbour, and Butterfly, who joins her on the terrace,
sees that the ship is white and flying the American flag. She takes a telescope
from the little table and runs again to the terrace, trembling with emotion,
trying to decipher the name of the ship - Abraham Lincoln. In joy she hands the
telescope to Suzuki and goes back into the room, her faith in Pinkerton
justified, now that her love has come back to her.
tells Suzuki to gather blossom from the cherry-tree. How long must they wait?
One hour? Longer, Suzuki thinks. Two hours perhaps? The whole house must be
full of flowers, as the night is full of shining stars, Butterfly orders,
urging Suzuki into the garden. Must she pick all the flowers, she asks, but her
mistress wants all of them, peach-blossom, violet, jasmine. The garden will be like
winter, Suzuki complains, but in the house, Butterfly says, it will be spring.
They busy themselves decorating the house with flowers: now the long, sad
period of waiting and watching is over. Suzuki has gathered all the flowers and
helps her mistress, garlanding the room with lilies and roses and scattering
sets two lamps on the low dressing-table, where Butterfly is preparing
herself.. but first the child must be dressed. The sun is setting, as Suzuki
puts the boy down by his mother, who looks at herself in the glass, regarding
her faded beauty. She takes rouge for her cheeks, and for her son, while Suzuki
sees to her hair. Now the Bonze’s curse has come to nothing and she can be rid
of Yamadori. Butterfly asks Suzuki to bring her wedding robe, which she dons,
while Suzuki dresses the child. Pinkerton will be delighted to see her as he
did on that first day. She tells Suzuki to put a poppy in her hair and makes
three holes in the screen, so that, like little mice, they can watch in secret.
The night grows darker and Suzuki closes the door-screen. The three of them
remain by the door-screen, in which holes have been made for them to look out.
patiently await Pinkerton’s arrival, accompanied by the distant humming of
unseen voices. The little boy falls asleep, as does Suzuki, but Butterfly
Act II Part 2
orchestra introduces the last part of the drama, hinting at the tragedy to
come. Dawn is breaking and Butterfly is seen, motionless, still watching, while
the other two sleep. The distant cries of sailors are heard and the sounds of
activity in the harbour. The far-away sound of the French horn heralds
daybreak: birds sing in the garden, as the sun rises.
awakes with a start, rises and taps Butterly on the shoulder. He will come, she
says, you will see, picking up her sleeping child, to carry him into the
adjacent room. Suzuki tells her to rest: she will wake her when Pinkerton
comes. Butterfly’s voice is heard from the next room, as she nurses her child
in her arms. Suzuki pities her mistress. A gentle knocking is heard and she
calls out to know who it is. Pinkerton tells her to be silent as he and
Sharpless tiptoe in. Suzuki tells them that Butterfly is exhausted after
watching all night. In reply to Pinkerton’s question, she tells him that they
knew of his arrival, because for three years her mistress has examined every
ship that came into the harbour for signs of his return: yesterday they decked
the house with flowers. Sharpless, deeply moved, reminds Pinkerton of what he
has already told him of Butterfly’s fidelity and love. Suzuki sees a strange
woman in the garden and, with increasing agitation, asks who it is. Pinkerton,
embarrassed, explains that the woman is with him, but it is Sharpless who
reveals the truth: the woman is Pinkerton’s wife. Suzuki, horrified, raises her
arms to heaven then falls prostrate on the ground, calling on the holy spirits
of her ancestors, now that Butterfly’s sun has set for ever. Sharpless tries to
explain that they have sought her out so early in the morning for her help in
dealing with Butterfly.
can offer little comfort but Pinkerton’s American wife will take good care of
the child and his future. As he urges Suzuki to persuade Butterfly to surrender
the child, Pinkerton, in some agitation, paces the room, seeing the flowers,
smelling their bitter fragrance, and recalling the past. Suzuki is appalled at
the proposal of the consul, while Pinkerton notices now his own portrait. He
cannot bear to see Butterfly and tells Sharpless he will wait for him outside,
full of remorse. Sharpless reminds him of his earlier warnings, now fulfilled.
in sorrow, bids a passionate farewell to his former love, leaving the consul
and his wife Kate to see to matters. Suzuki now comes from the garden, followed
by Kate, who speaks gently to Suzuki, reminding her of her promise to speak to
Butterfly on what has been proposed: Kate will be a mother to Butterfly’s
child. Suzuki tells her that she must speak to Butterfly alone, she will weep
Butterfly’s voice is heard, calling Suzuki. She appears at the door of the
room, and Kate, anxious not to be seen, retires into the garden. Suzuki assures
her that she has not deserted her post, but tries unsuccessfully to prevent her
coming into the room. Butterfly is jubilant: Pinkerton is here, but where is he
hiding? She sees Sharpless, but Pinkerton is not to be seen. Suddenly she
catches sight of Kate in the garden, and looks fixedly at Sharpless, asking him
who the woman is and what she wants. Suzuki sobs quietly to herself, and
Butterfly now begins to guess what has happened. Like a child, Butterfly
addresses Suzuki, begging her not to cry, but to say just yes or no: is
Pinkerton still alive? Yes. But they have told you he will not come back?
Suzuki is silent. Butterfly, in anger, demands an answer. He will never return.
Now Butterfly understands and looks at Kate in fascination, a woman who strikes
such fear into her. Sharpless explains that Kate is the innocent cause of her
sorrow. Full realisation dawns: Kate is Pinkerton’s wife, and now for Butterfly
all has ended: they even want to take her son. Sharpless urges her to make this
sacrifice for the child, and Butterfly, distraught, now agrees, since her
husband must be obeyed. Kate now approaches, asking forgiveness, and Butterfly
greets her as the happiest of women, telling her to feel no sadness for her.
She will give the child to Pinkerton, if he comes for him.
and Sharpless leave, and Butterfly falls weeping to the ground. Suzuki runs to
help her, putting her hand on her mistress’s heart, which beats like the wings
of an imprisoned fly. Aware that it is now full day, Butterfly tells Suzuki
there is too much light, too much of spring, and bids her shut the door-screen,
so that the room is now in half darkness. She asks where her son is, and Suzuki
tells her that he is playing. Butterfly tells her to play with him, but Suzuki
is at first reluctant to leave her, until her mistress commands her to do so.
Butterfly now kneels before the image of the Buddha, motionless and in sad
thought. Then, rising, she goes to the household-shrine and takes from it the
dagger, kept there in a lacquered box. She kisses the blade and tries the point
with her hand, then reading with a low voice the words inscribed on it: “He who
can no longer live with honour, dies honourably”.
puts the dagger to her throat, but the door suddenly opens, and Suzuki pushes
the boy towards his mother, who drops the dagger and embraces and kisses him.
She then bids her child farewell, now that he can travel to another land and no
longer be troubled by her. She takes the child and blindfolds him, putting in
his hands an American flag and telling him to play. She then picks up the
dagger and moves behind the screen. The dagger is heard falling and Butterfly
struggles towards the boy, embracing him once more, before collapsing.
this moment the voice of Pinkerton is heard, as he climbs the hill to the
house. The door opens violently and Pinkerton and Sharpless rush in. Butterfly
can only gesture towards the child, as she dies. Pinkerton falls on his knees
by her side, while Sharpless sees to the child. The tragedy has run its course.
Last Albums Viewed
PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly (Tebaldi) (1951)