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. They are happily planned to be married, but Butterfly's uncle disapproves of the fact that she renounced her religion for her husband. Her family disowns her, but Pinkerton comforts her.

In the next act, three years have passed and Pinkerton is off and gone. Butterfly is alone, and Suzuki shows up to her home with a letter from Pinkerton. Butterfly thinks the letter says he will return, and Sharpless is not sure what to say to her. He doesn't know if Pinkerton will actually return or not. Butterfly had a child back at home without him, and calls him Sorrow, until her husband comes home, saying then when he returns the child will be called Joy.

Pinkerton comes home, only to have Butterfly find out that in these past three years, he's married a woman named Kate. Sadly Butterfly accepts this, gives up her child, and chooses what she finds honorable with what she has left.

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.
  • 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 inconvenient Japanese wife is no longer in the picture and the baby isn't his problem. The tone of the opera condemns him, but not nearly as strongly as a modern work would be required to do.
  • 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.
  • 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.


Alternative Title(s):

Madama Butterfly