Theatre: Madame Butterfly

Madame Butterfly (Madama Butterfly in Italian) is a three-act opera by Giacomo Puccini. Based on both the short story Madame Chrysanthème and Madame Butterfly, it tells the story of Cio-Cio San (nicknamed Butterfly) in 1904, Nagasaki, Japan. Cio-Cio San, a soprano and beautiful 15 year old girl, is engaged to be married to a U.S. Naval Officer named Pinkerton. He admires her for her innocence and beauty, like a young delicate butterfly, and the fact that he can just as easily pluck her wings. He only wants to temporarily marry her until he finds an American bride, but lets the lovestruck Butterfly believe that the marriage is permanent. The wedding takes place, but Butterfly's uncle disapproves of the fact that she renounced her religion for her husband. Her family disowns her, but Pinkerton kicks out the relatives and comforts her.

In the next act, three years have passed and Pinkerton is off and gone. Butterfly has lived alone with her maid Suzuki. While Suzuki claims that Pinkerton will never return, Butterfly insists that he will return to her. Sharpless then shows up at her home with a letter from Pinkerton. Butterfly excitedly thinks the letter says he will be back soon. Sharpless is not sure what to say to her since the actual contents of the letter reveal that Pinkerton is indeed returning to Japan, but that he has moved on with his life and no longer attaches himself to his Japanese wife. When Sharpless tries to tell Butterfly this, she reveals that she gave birth to Pinkerton's child after he left. She calls him Sorrow, but declares faithfully that when her husband comes home, the child will be called Joy. Sharpless cannot bear to crush such a loyal heart and has to leave without telling her of Pinkerton's true treachery.

After he leaves, Butterfly sees Pinkerton's ship in the bay. She and Suzuki joyfully prepare the house for his arrival and then wait all night for him.

When, however, he arrives, Butterfly has fallen asleep, exhausted by her vigil. But Pinkerton does not arrive alone: He arrives with his wife, Kate, who he married after leaving Japan. Informed of the existence of the child, Pinkerton and his wife have come to take him away and raise him in America. Unable to face his guilt, Pinkerton leaves his wife to handle it. Butterfly's despair upon finding this woman in her home does not shake her composure. Kate begs for Butterfly's forgiveness and promises to treat the child as her own. With hardly any other choice, Butterfly accepts this, gives up her child, and turns to all that she has left: To die with honour when one can no longer live with honour.

It's an opera. What do you expect? A happy ending?

This opera has had countless adaptations, one with a page on this wiki being Miss Saigon and Mademoiselle Butterfly. It also inspired the play M. Butterfly, and received quite a few references in Weezer's album Pinkerton.

Tropes used by the opera:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder
  • Asian Babymama: The main character, odd for the trope.
  • Break the Cutie: More like "pulverize".
  • But Not Too Foreign: The half-American child is cast as blond, usually.
    • As the lyrics request.
    Sharpless: Egli è suo?English 
    Butterfly: Chi mai vide a bimbo del Giappone occhi azzurrini? E il labbro? E i ricciolini d'oro schietto? English 
  • Cassandra Truth: Sharpless warns Pinkerton he'll devastate Butterfly if he abandons her. Suzuki tries to tell Butterfly that Pinkerton isn't coming back. Nobody listens to either of them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The dagger.
  • Converting for Love: An especially drastic example, since a) Butterfly's family disowns her over it, and b) Pinkerton never asked her to, and totally doesn't care that she did.
  • Dawson Casting: As is the norm for opera, 15-year old Cio-Cio San is never played by an actual teenager. An interesting variation occurs with her three-year old son, Sorrow, who almost always appears "big for his age", with actors around 5-7.
  • Downer Ending
  • Eagleland, flavor 1: Butterfly's concept of America as a land of freedom, and Christianity as the One True Faith. The composer mocks it by introducing Pinkerton with a "Star Spangled Banner" theme.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Inverted. Contrary to common operatic tradition, the jerk Pinkerton is played by a tenor. Meanwhile, the kindly Sharpless is played by a baritone.
  • Famous-Named Foreigner: The American Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (remember the opera was written in Italy).
  • Fourth Date Marriage: More like first.
  • Geisha: Cio-Cio San was one before Pinkerton married her, and finds the thought of returning to that profession shameful.
  • Give Him a Normal Life: What happens to Butterfly's son.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Oh god, Butterfly is this Up to Eleven.
  • I Have No Son: Butterfly's family's reaction when they find out she converted to Christianity.
  • The Ingenue: Poor Butterfly.
  • Karma Houdini: In the end Pinkerton essentially gets everything he wanted — his proper American life with an inconvenient Japanese wife no longer in the picture. However, his wife Kate has promised Butterfly to care for her son as her own, leaving Pinkerton a child whose very presence will always remind him that his rashness and cruelty killed the boy's mother.
  • Leitmotif: Several. There's one for Butterfly's father's knife as well as Pinkerton's already-mentioned "Star Spangled Banner", just to name two.
  • Love Martyr: Butterfly is a resounding example.
  • Meaningful Name: Pinkerton, as noted above, but also the ineffectual Sharpless and the fragile Butterfly.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: The Trope Codifier for the "exotic, submissive Asian woman falls in love with Western man" plot.
  • Only Sane Man: Suzuki and Sharpless.
  • Parental Abandonment: Butterfly's child now has a Missing Mom and a dad who's got his own wife.
  • Seppuku: Butterfly's father's knife is used for this.
  • Playing Gertrude: Inverted. Butterfly is 15 years old but usually the actresses are much older.
  • The Soprano: Cio-Cio San
  • Untranslated Title: In Italy, or any non-English speaking country. The Italian word for butterfly is "farfalla", yet the English word is used for the character's name.
  • What Have I Done: Pinkerton's reaction upon finding out Butterfly has waited three years for his return.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Massively subverted. Butterfly is supposed to be a "proper Japanese woman" and a sympathetic victim of Western racism. However, technically speaking she fails at being a Yamato Nadeshiko, as she completely lacks the required core of steel; nowadays, poor Butterfly is seen as a Trope Codifier on how NOT to write any East Asian female character.
    • Of course, Butterfly's submissiveness and naivete could just as easily be attributed to the fact that she is only 15 years old at the beginning of the story and 18 by the end.

Alternative Title(s):

Madama Butterfly