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ClassicsOnline Home » PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly (los Angeles, di Stefano, Gobbi) (1954)
One of the finest ever recordings of Madama Butterfly, this 1954 taping has rarely been out of the catalogue. Victoria de los Angeles, never in finer or fuller voice, sings with radiant beauty, Giuseppe Di Stefano is a thrilling yet moving Pinkerton while Tito Gobbi brings unexpected depth and feeling to the rôle of Sharpless.The recording is further distinguished by idiomatic and characterful performances from the Rome Opera Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni, who was also a noted composer, author and musicologist.
By David Denton
First issued in 1955 with Victoria de los Angeles and Giuseppe Di Stefano in the leading roles, it has become the most popular Madama Butterfly on disc.
That was in spite of the fact that the much hyped Maria Callas recording was released only a few months later. It was a performance that concentrated on the lyric rather than dramatic aspects of the score, Victoria de los Angeles one of the few singers who have successfully used a girlish voice to capture the youth and innocence of the character. Such moments as the love duet that concludes the first act, and the happy opening to the second act, are captured with uncommon beauty. Di Stefano - who was in remarkably fine form - was vocally too endearing to be the villain of the piece, but a joy to listen to and blending perfectly with his Butterfly. Surprisingly the downside is Tito Gobbi who never seems to become involved, his Sharpless lacking any sign of compassion towards Butterfly, and even more unexpected are moments of poor intonation. The remaining roles are serviceable rather than outstanding, the recording really hanging around this beautifully sung Butterfly, the eventual suicide made all the more poignant by the innocence crafted by de los Angeles. She does, of course, have to open up her voice for the demands of Un bel di vedremo, and for her anger in the second act scene with Goro. Otherwise she manages to keep within character. I don’t suppose we will ever be so deeply moved than when this Butterfly realises Pinkerton has remarried. Under the direction of Gianandrea Gavazzeni the Rome Opera House Orchestra were as good as I have ever heard them, his tempos unhurried and never exaggerate the dramatic passages. In a couple of loud moments there was distortion on the original discs which have to remain, but otherwise the sound belies its age in an exemplary transfer. I thought Naxos might have risked a very long first disc to accommodate the second act unbroken, but sadly it was not to be.
Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924)
An opera in three acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
Based on David Belasco’s play Madame Butterfly
Madama Butterfly (Cio-Cio-San) – Victoria de los Angeles (soprano)
B. F. Pinkerton, Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy – Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor)
Suzuki, Cio-Cio-San’s servant – Anna Maria Canali (mezzo-soprano)
Sharpless, U.S. consul at Nagasaki – Tito Gobbi (baritone)
Goro, a marriage broker – Renato Ercolani (tenor)
Kate Pinkerton – Maria Huder (mezzo-soprano)
Prince Yamadori / Imperial Commissioner / Registrar – Arturo la Porta (bass-baritone)
The Bonze, Cio-Cio-San’s uncle – Bruno Sbalchiero (bass)
It was in 1898 that a story entitled Madam Butterfly first appeared. It offered a realistic tale of the desertion of a young Japanese geisha girl by an American naval officer, to whom she bore a child after being abandoned by him but later committed suicide. The story represents the clash between two cultures, on the one hand the deeply traditional Japanese one, contrasted by the almost laissez-faire one of the New World. The author John Luther Long later stated he had based his scenario on a true episode which had taken place during the 1890s. The American playwright and producer, David Belasco, later wrote a play based on the tale. This was first given in the Herald Theater, New York on 5th March 1900. It was produced in London three months later to much acclaim. Puccini saw the play when in London in June that year on the occasion of the capital city’s première of Tosca and came away profoundly moved by the play. He then met Belasco, requesting if he might use the play as the basis of an opera. The author agreed.
Japan had been a closed country for many years and it was not until 1853 when Commodore Matthew Parry of the United States Navy sailed in the Bay of Okinawa that trade with the West was initiated. Over the ensuing years American ships and crews became frequent visitors to Japan, introducing elements of Western culture into the closed country. The character of Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton is a typical early twentieth-century example of an American officer. The art of the geisha goes back many centuries. Girls are trained in conversation, dancing and singing in addition to that of a confidante, guide and hostess to her guests. They are invariably dressed in striking dyed silk kimonos, a wraparound, wide-sleeved robe bound with a colourful sash known as an obi. For her wedding ceremony the young Butterfly would have worn a richly decorated kimono and obi. The Japanese have always been much concerned with their ancestry and family relationships, especially in regard to religious affairs. Although less obvious now than in former times, sacred artefacts and family shrines are important in the family’s religious observance. Butterfly would surely have shown Pinkerton her most treasured possessions, which would have represented the souls of her revered ancestors.
The subject of Hara-Kiri was traditionally a form of suicide reserved for the warrior (samurai) class, the theory of such a practice being that it offered an honourable way of ending a person’s life when the continuation would be deemed a disgrace and dishonour.
Puccini returned to Italy and commissioned Illica and Giacosa to prepare a libretto based on the subject matter. The librettists then wrote a new act in front of the Belasco drama. This counterbalanced the serious and sombre nature of the play in addition to providing a better introduction to the circumstances leading up to the concluding tragedy of the last scene. Puccini’s publisher Ricordi displayed coolness towards the project, feeling that the character of Pinkerton (the tenor rôle) was not very sympathetic and quite short in duration. Moreover, Puccini was having great difficulty in extracting a libretto from his collaborators: he had received nothing at all until October. In fact the composer did not have the completed libretto until early June 1902. Domestic problems with the health of his wife prevented Puccini beginning work on the score until the end of August. Work progressed slowly during the winter months, only to be seriously interrupted by a serious accident, when the composer was thrown from his car. He was found underneath the vehicle almost asphyxiated and with a serious compound fracture of the right leg. Worse was to follow when the leg had to be re-broken following an incorrect initial setting. The recovery was both slow and painful so that Puccini was not to finish the orchestration until the last week of December 1903.
The composer arrived in Milan on 6th January 1904 to oversee the preparation of the première. The two-act version of the opera was first staged at La Scala in Milan on 17th February 1904 with a firstrate cast compromising soprano Rosina Storchio as the heroine, the tenor Giovanni Zenatello as Pinkerton and baritone Giuseppe De Luca as the American consul, with Cleofonte Campanini conducting. The work was very poorly received with howls of bitter laughter and irony. The composer immediately withdrew the work in order to prepare a revised version with a number of changes and cuts, now in three acts. This was given in Brescia on 28th May that year, again with Zenatello and De Luca but a new Butterfly in Salomea Krusceniski. The revision split the overlong second act in two. The critical response proclaimed it a great success, for all Puccini’s hard work. This was repeated when the opera was first given in London the following year.
The final result was a significant achievement for the composer. The writing displays a considerable advance on previous operas in its subtlety and refinement. His use of Japanese melodies to highlight and emphasize musical points is most striking, using just a single, unaccompanied melody. The character of Butterfly (the fifteen-yearold Japanese geisha) is one of Puccini’s ‘little’ women. He develops the part, however, from one of naïve innocence to one of great moral dignity. The vocal part is one of the most demanding of any soprano part the composer wrote, moving from gentle simplicity to great dramatic heights in her moving farewell to the world at the age of eighteen. In many way this is the most draining of all Puccini’s soprano rôles other than that of Turandot.
This recording was made in the summer of 1954 Rome as part of HMV’s continuing contract with the Teatro dell’Opera, an arrangement begun in 1938 that would continue until 1967. The months of July and August were regularly used for recording purposes when the opera house was closed for the summer break. Singers, producers and engineers would converge on the city. Madama Butterfly had been recorded by HMV in Rome in August 1939 with Toti Dal Monte and Beniamino Gigli as Cio- Cio-San and Pinkerton. When it was planned to undertake a new recording during the early 1950s, however, it was decided that Victoria de los Angeles, Giuseppe di Stefano and Tito Gobbi would be chosen. All had become contracted to the International Artistes Department of EMI in London during the late 1940s. The conductor Gianandrea Gavazzeni, however, was making his first complete operatic recording for EMI. Producer David Bicknell and balance engineer Harold Davidson came from Britain and were assisted by Italian colleagues.
The Spanish soprano Victoria de los Angeles (1923-2005) was born in Barcelona and later studied in that city. Her formal début was in 1945 as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro. After winning the Geneva International Singing Competition in 1947 she was engaged the following year by the BBC in London to take part in studio broadcast performances of Falla’s La vida breve, an event which aroused much interest and critical acclaim. She then appeared at the Paris Opéra, Covent Garden in London, La Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan, New York, in three successive years from 1949 onwards. She later sang at Bayreuth in 1961 but thereafter began to confine her appearances to the concert hall. Her voice was one of great lyrical beauty and conveyed infinite tonal contrasts with an unusually warm lower register. She recorded extensively in both opera and song, particularly, in the latter area, Spanish music of many centuries. She continued to appear in concert until her mid-sixties. She can be heard as Nedda in Pagliacci (Naxos 8.110258).
The tenor Giuseppe di Stefano was born in 1921 near Catania, in Sicily. He studied with Adriano Torchi and Luigi Montesanto in Milan. After three years in the Italian army he escaped to Switzerland in 1943 and was interned. He later appeared in Swiss broadcasts and concerts that aroused considerable interest. His official début was as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon in 1946 in Florence, repeating the part for his first appearance at La Scala in Milan the following year. His American début was as Gounod’s Faust in February 1948 at the Metropolitan, where he would regularly appear until 1952. He returned there in 1955-56 and 1965. He also sang in Mexico City (1948-52), often opposite Maria Callas. He appeared regularly at La Scala between 1952 and 1961, the latter year being the occasion of his début at Covent Garden in London. He also sang in Paris, Vienna, Berlin and Buenos Aires. Originally a lyric tenor, his first rôles included Nemorino, Rodolfo, Alfredo, Fenton and Pinkerton. Di Stefano moved into heavier parts such as Don José, Canio, Turridu, Radames, Alvaro and, most unwisely, Otello. His voice in his early years with its smooth and liquid golden tone was considered the finest since Gigli but, regrettably, he later chose parts for which his voice was really unsuited, in addition to suffering from respiratory problems. He recorded extensively, often with Callas and Gobbi, in a whole series made by the Scala Company. Di Stefano died on 3rd March 2008 at his home in Santa Maria Hoè, north of Milan, from injuries sustained in a November 2004 attack at his family’s villa in Kenya.
Baritone Tito Gobbi (1913-1984) was born in Brassano del Grappa. Originally he studied law at Padua University but changed to singing, working with Giulio Crimi. His début took place at Gubbio in the bass rôle of the Count in La sonnambula in 1935. As a result of winning first prize in a Vienna singing competition the following year he made his Rome début as Germont at the Teatro Adriano in 1939. His first appearance at La Scala in Milan occurred in April 1942 as Belcore in L’elisir d’amore. Later that year he sang the title rôle in Berg’s Wozzeck in Rome under Serafin to great acclaim. An American appearance as Rossini’s Figaro in San Francisco in 1948 marked Gobbi’s début on that continent. He sang with the visiting La Scala Company at Covent Garden as Belcore and Ford, and later became a regular guest in London, singing Renato, Falstaff, Don Giovanni, Rigoletto, Gianni Schicchi, Rodrigo and Boccanegra. He also appeared at the Metropolitan in New York between the years 1956 and 1976. In addition he sang in a number of films. After retirement from singing he also directed opera in addition to giving memorable master-classes. He was a superb singing actor who created many memorable characterizations both on stage and recordings. He can be heard as Rodrigo in Don Carlo on Naxos 8.111132-34.
The Italian conductor, composer, author and musicologist Gianandrea Gavazzeni (1909-1996) was born in Bergamo (where he died), studying piano with Renzo Lorenzoni and composition with Pizzetti and Pilati at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome (1921-25) and then the Milan Conservatory (1925-31). He began his career in 1930 in his native city as an assistant to Giuseppe Antonicelli in addition to writing musical journalism. In the following decade he spent most of his time working as a composer in addition to directing his own works. He first conducted in Parma (1940), Bergamo (1941), Teatro dell’Arte, Rome and Genoa (1942), before working regularly in Milan (he was artistic director at La Scala during the years 1965-68). He brought the Milan company to the Edinburgh Festival in 1957, in addition to visits to Moscow (1964) and Montreal (1967). He also appeared in Chicago (La Bohème, 1957), Glyndebourne (Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, 1965) and the Metropolitan in New York (Il Trovatore, 1976). In 1949 he gave up composition and forbade further performances of any of his works. His publications included books and guides on Donizetti, Janáãek, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Pizzetti and Wagner.
When the recording was first released in March 1955 the reviewer in The Gramophone felt that De los Angeles’s performance was beautifully sung and “gives us moments of fervour and pathos”. Her voice was thought “to ring out with great confidence in its upper reaches” whereas Di Stefano was deemed “a hard-boiled Pinkerton, but [his] open-throated singing gives one many vocal thrills … and he is in splendid voice in this recording”. Gobbi was felt to be “a severe Consul, but with moments of feeling”. Gavazzeni’s reading was praised as was the quality of the sound recording.
It is 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.
 The 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.
 Pinkerton 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 then, 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.
 Pinkerton 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.
 The 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.
 They 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.
 Goro 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 motherin- 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 Sharpless.]
 The 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 lookingglass, 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.
 Goro 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 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.
 The 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.
 Pinkerton 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.
 The 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.
 Pinkerton 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.
Night 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 (beginning)
 The 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.
 One 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.
 Goro 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.
 She 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.
 Sharpless 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.
Act II (conclusion)
 Sharpless asks Butterfly what she will do if Pinkerton never comes back. She 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.
 Butterfly 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.
 Butterfly 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.
 The 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.
 Suzuki 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.
 She 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, peachblossom, 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 petals.
 Suzuki 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.
 They patiently await Pinkerton’s arrival, accompanied by the distant humming of unseen voices. The little boy falls asleep, as does Suzuki, but Butterfly remains watching.
 The 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.
 Suzuki awakes with a start, rises and taps Butterfly 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 fails 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.
 Sharpless 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.
 Pinkerton, 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 so much.
 Now 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 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.
 Kate 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”.
 She 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.
 At 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.
The original master tapes of this recording contain several instances of overload distortion, extraneous noises (note the hammering in the background in CD 2, Track 13 at 3:16 and 3:50, and Track 14 at 1:46) and noticeable edits (including one – at 3:16 on CD 1, Track 12 – which deletes a couple of notes) which are not a function of the American LP pressings which were the source for the present transfer.
Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924)
An opera in three acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
Based on David Belasco’s play Madame Butterfly
Recorded 26-31 July and 2-6, 8-9, 11 and 23 August, 1954
in the Teatro dell’Opera, Rome
First issued on HMV ALP 1215 through 1217
Rome Opera House Chorus and Orchestra
(Chorus Master: Giuseppe Conca)
(Maestro Collaborator: Luigi Ricci)
Reissue Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
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