Madame Butterfly Throughout the World

“Dovunque al mondo lo Yankee vagabondo
si gode e traffica
sprezzando rischi.
Affonda l’áncora alla ventura…
Affonda l’áncora alla ventura
finchè una raffica
scompigli nave e ormeggi, alberatura.
La vita ei non appaga
se non fa suo tesor
i fiori d’ogni plaga,…
…d’ogni bella gli amor.”

(The whole world over,
on business and pleasure,
the Yankee travels all danger scorning.
His anchor boldly he casts at random…
…His anchor boldly he casts at random,
until a sudden squall
upsets his ship, then up go sails and rigging.
And life is not worth living
if he can’t win the best
and fairest of each country,…
…and the heart of each maid.)

Dovunque al mondo (Throughout the world).
Aria From Act I

 
 

 
 

Madama Butterfly (Madame Butterfly) is an opera in three acts (originally two acts) by Giacomo Puccini, with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. The libretto of the opera is based in part on the short story Madame Butterfly (1898) by John Luther Long – which in turn was based partially on stories told to Long by his sister Jennie Correll and partially on the semi-autographical 1887 French novel Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti.

Long’s short story was dramatized by David Belasco as a one-act play, Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan (1900). After premiering in New York, Belasco’s play moved to London, where Puccini saw it in the summer of 1900.

 
 

 
 

Puccini wrote five versions of the opera. The original version in two-acts, which was presented at the world premiere at La Scala on 17 February 1904, was withdrawn after the disasterous premiere. Puccini then substantially rewrote it, this time in three acts. This second version was performed on 28 May 1904 in Brescia, where it was a great success. It was this second version that premiered in the United States in 1906, first in Washington, D.C., in October, and then in New York in November, performed by Henry Savage‘s New English Opera Company (so named because it performed in English-language translations). Madama Butterfly is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire for companies around the world, ranking 7th in the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide.

ACT 1

In 1904, a U.S. Naval officer named Pinkerton rents a house on a hill in Nagasaki, Japan, for him and his soon-to-be wife, “Butterfly”. Her real name is Ciocio-san, (cio-cio, pronounced “chocho”: the Japanese word for “butterfly” is chō 蝶). She is a 15-year-old Japanese girl whom he is marrying for convenience, since he intends to leave her once he finds a proper American wife, and since Japanese divorce laws are very lax. The wedding is to take place at the house. Butterfly had been so excited to marry an American that she had earlier secretly converted to Christianity. After the wedding ceremony, her uninvited uncle, a bonze, who has found out about her conversion, comes to the house, curses her and orders all the guests to leave, which they do while renouncing her. Pinkerton and Butterfly sing a love duet and prepare to spend their first night together.

ACT 2

Three years later, Butterfly is still waiting for Pinkerton to return, as he had left shortly after their wedding. Her maid Suzuki keeps trying to convince her that he is not coming back, but Butterfly will not listen to her. Goro, the marriage broker who arranged her marriage, keeps trying to marry her off again, but she won’t listen to him either. The American Consul, Sharpless, comes to the house with a letter which he has received from Pinkerton which asks him to break some news to Butterfly, that Pinkerton is coming back to Japan, but Sharpless cannot bring himself to finish it because Butterfly becomes very excited to hear that Pinkerton is coming back. Sharpless asks Butterfly what she would do if Pinkerton were not to return. She then reveals that she gave birth to Pinkerton’s son after he had left and asks Sharpless to tell him.

ACT 3

Suzuki wakes up in the morning and Butterfly finally falls asleep. Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive at the house, along with Pinkerton’s new American wife, Kate. They have come because Kate has agreed to raise the child. But, as Pinkerton sees how Butterfly has decorated the house for his return, he realizes he has made a huge mistake. He admits that he is a coward and cannot face her, leaving Suzuki, Sharpless and Kate to break the news to Butterfly. Agreeing to give up her child if Pinkerton comes himself to see her, she then prays to statues of her ancestral gods, says goodbye to her son, and blindfolds him. She places a small American flag into his hands and goes behind a screen, cutting her throat with her father’s hara-kiri knife. Pinkerton rushes in. He is too late.

From the hill house, Butterfly sees Pinkerton’s ship arriving in the harbour. She and Suzuki prepare for his arrival, and then they wait. Suzuki and the child fall asleep, but Butterfly stays up all night waiting for him to arrive.

Although almost no singing occurs during the film, much of the underscoring is from or based on Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, and much of it in the corresponding places of where it would occur in the opera

 
 

ADAPTATIONS

 
 

Mary Pickford, wearing a peacock feather printed kimono, writing at a desk. Silent film version of Madame Butterfly (Sidney Olcott, 1915). Olcott, reportedly wanted Pickford to be more reserved and Oriental and walked off the set in protest of her too Americanized Cio Cio San

 
 

The Toll of the Sea (Chester M. Franklin, 1922). The plot was a variation of the Madama Butterfly story, set in China instead of Japan. It was the second two-color Technicolor motion picture ever released and the first film made using Technicolor Process 2

 
 

Madame Butterfly (Marion Gering, 1932). A non-singing drama made by Paramount starring Sylvia Sidney and Cary Grant in black and white. Although almost no singing occurs during the film, much of the underscoring is from or based on Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, and much of it in the corresponding places of where it would occur in the opera

 
 

The film Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lyne, 1987) starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close makes several references to Madame Butterfly, and the soundtrack features extracts from the opera. Scorned and dangerously obsessed former lover Alex Forrest (Close) finds comfort in and identifies heavily with Cio-Cio San. The original, abandoned ending of the film shows Alex committing suicide in an identical fashion as Cio-Cio San while Un bel dì plays in the background

 
 

Miss Saigon is a musical by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr. premièred at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, on 20 September 1989. It is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, and similarly tells the tragic tale of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. The setting of the plot is relocated to the 1970s Saigon during the Vietnam War, and Madame Butterfly’s story of marriage between an American lieutenant and Japanese girl is replaced by a romance between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl

 
 

M Butterfly (David Cronenberg, 1993). The screenplay was written by David Henry Hwang based on his play of the same name

 
 

Pinkerton is the second studio album by the American alternative rock band Weezer, released on September 24, 1996. the album is named after the character BF Pinkerton from Giacomo Puccini’s 1904 opera Madama Butterfly, whom Rivers Cuomo described as an “asshole American sailor similar to a touring rock star”. Like the opera, the album contains references to Japan and Japanese culture

 
 

The artwork on the album’s cover is Kambara yoru no yuki (Night snow at Kambara), an ukiyo-e print by Hiroshige

 
 

Behind the album’s CD tray is a map with the title “Isola della farfalla e penisola di cane” (Italian for “Island of the Butterfly and Peninsula of Dog”). On the map are a ship named USS Pinkerton and “Mykel and Carli Island”, an allusion to Weezer’s fan club founders. In a 2005 appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Cuomo explained that the names listed on the map are those who influenced him during the writing of the album, with Howard Stern being one of those influences

 
 

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The Dream of A Romanian Princess

“De nouveau la guerre. Il y a ici un tel cafard, une angoisse générale qui vient de tout ce qui se dit et répète sur la prochaine occupation de Nice que j’en suis très affecté par contagion et que mon travail est particulièrement difficile. Heureusement je viens de finir presque un tableau commencé il y a un an et que j’ai mené à l’aventure -en somme chacun de mes tableaux est une aventure. D’abord très réaliste, une belle brune dormant sur ma table de marbre au milieu de fruits, est devenue un ange qui dort sur une surface violette -le plus beau violet que j’aie vu, -ses chairs sont de rose de fleur pulpeuse et chaude -et le corsage de sa robe a été remplacé par une blouse roumaine ancienne, d’un bleu pervenche pâle très très doux, une blouse de broderie au petit point vieux rouge qui a dû appartenir à une princesse, avec une jupe d’abord vert émeraude et maintenant d’un noir de jais. Que tu es belle, ma messagère au bois dormant! tes yeux sont des colombes derrière leurs paupières. Et elle rêve d’un prince français prisonnier d’antan dont j’ai lu et relu les poèmes pour en faire un choix. Je me suis toujours méfié de la littérature, mais je ne l’ai pas seulement illustrée, je l’ai soigneusement, amoureusement recopiée, et l’on en trouve l’émerveillement dans mes thèmes.”

 

(“The war, again. We live such dark thoughts, such general anguish, which is fueled by anything which is being said and repeated about the imminent occupation of Nice. This rather affects me adversely and I find it difficult to work. Fortunately I just about finished a painting which I started a year ago and which was quite an adventure, in fact each of my paintings represent an adventure. Above all, very realistic, a beautiful woman with dark hair, who was asleep on my marble table, among the fruit. She had metamorphosed into an angel sleeping on this violet surface – the most beautiful violet colour which I had ever seen – her pink flesh of bulbous hot flowers ; her corsage had been replaced by a Romanian blouse, of ancient design, of a pale, very soft blue, a blouse embroidered with old ochre stitches, which must have belonged to a princess, with an emerald skirt which now was of a black jade. How wonderful you are my sleeping beauty of a messenger – your eyes so like doves behind their closed eyelids. And she dreams of a French prince of yore, whose poems I read and reread in order to set my choice. I was always reticent about literature, but now, not only have I illustrated it, here I have lovingly recopied it, so that you could marvel in my theme.”)

Henri Matisse

 
 

Le rêve (The Dream), Henri Matisse, 1940

 
 

So the great Master, Henri Matisse, now nearly 70, dreams of a Romanian Princess in the guise of a Sleeping Beauty, who was bringing solace during the uncertainties of war and old age. The scene he conjures is borrowed from the pre-war Paris and even much earlier on, from La Belle Epoque, before the First World War, to which Matisse was acquainted in his youth. This was the time when Romanian princesses were mesmerizing the French. They were the ‘Egerias’ of the Parisian intellectual society and there were several of them:

Helene Vacaresco, whose love poems were sung by Tino Rossi (Si tu voulais) and her love life inspired Pierre Loti’s best selling novel L’Exilee and gave the name to a prestigious literary prize ; Le Prix Vacaresco-Femina (now known as the Prix Femina).

Or the much lionized Comtesse de Noailles, nee Princess Brancovan, the first woman to become a Commander of the Legion d’Honneur. Anne de Noailles’s poems were awarded the first Prize of the Academie Francaise, at the turn of the century.

Or her cousin, the Parnassian poetess and hostess Marthe Bibesco, who inspired Marcel Proust, Jean Cocteau, Paul Valéry and Gabrielle D’Anunzio and who attracted to her entourage all the contemporary names that mattered, with the zest of a consummate entomologist, who would pin coleopterans in his prized cabinet.

Or, perhaps the rombustious Elvire Popescu, Countess de Foy, of the Theatre du Colombier and later of the Comedie Francaise, who delighted the public with her appearance in Ma cousine de Varsovie and became known by the endearing sobriquet of “Notre Dame du Theatre”. Popesco played with Sasha Guitry in the Paradis Perdu … Doubtless the Lost paradise was the object of much anxiety for Matisse and his bringing back to life the memory of these etheral Romanian muses in the form of the La Blouse Roumaine was an act of faith.

The war was going to put an end to this fertile liaison between Romania and the Paris Literary and artistic circles as the natural link between Romania and the West was fractured by the Iron Courtain. Now the country was going to live ,for five decades, the dark ages of ideological censorship, imprisonment and extermination.

The gap caused by this withdrawal from the French scene was filled to an extent by a number of exiles, who refused to reintegrate their fallen country, but their zest of life was blunted by the anxieties of sheer survival. On rare occasions, after the Cold War, a Romanian soprano or a ballerina might reappear on the French stage, but, by that time, the fire and the imagination of the public had changed and the impact was no longer the same. Besides, Romania would no longer conjure an image of intellectual excellence, but rather one of inept dehumanising, of the Prison of History. There the Romanian women not only shared their husband’s, brother’s and son’s prisons, but they were further condemned, through their bodies to fulfill the expectation of the “Demiurge”, for population growth… like some interminable genetic experiment of Kafkaesque proportions.

 
 

“An entire people,
Not yet born,
But condemned to birth,
In columns before birth
Foetus beside foetus,
An entire people,
Which does not see, does not hear, does not understand,
But moves forward.
Through writhing bodies of women,
Through the blood of mothers
Unconsulted.”

Ana Blandiana

The Children’s Crusade, 1984

 
 

With it, for nearly half a century the spirit of La Blouse Roumaine suffered a long period of eclipse, but survived to tell the story: these are the voices of Romanian women, which we bring about in this Anthology – some famous, other infamous, and most of them with the unconscious freshness of the unknown heroines – simple peasant farmers who languished in Siberian camps, pastor’s wives who suffered for their religious beliefs, self-effacing wives who were sent to concentration camps to expiate the politics of their husbands, or for no other sin than for having edited their spouse’s work – women, who in the normal course of events would have passed through life unnoticed, but whose torment under a genocidal regime, brought them to the fore of their country’s consciousness, for their bravery, their lyrical expression of their suffering, women who had to be buried under an assumed name, many others whose bodies were thrown in an unmarked, common grave – The names of these heroines are countless but their roll call, deserves our attention.

After Ceausescu’s demise the image of La Blouse Roumaine gradually came back into its own, slowly, like the awakening from a surreal nightmare: is the transition real? Is it for true? Is the past going to repeat itself?

Are the Romanian women, one may ask, going to regain their glittering reputation, which they had enjoyed before the war? For now, the answer is not simple and the road is tortuous. The only reputation which so far seems to have gained currency in the West was sadly one of poverty and desperation, which pushed the statistics of the young women from the “Balkan Vortex” to high levels of prostitution. Long after Ceausescu was put down, Ceausescu’s children who were once “condemned to birth” are now destined to begging for their subsistence, by selling their bodies…
It will take a while before The Sleeping Beauty of Matisse’s canvass will wake up to enchant the world stage, once again.

This day will come, but in the meanwhile the princess from La Blouse Roumaine will keep vigil that this dream may come true, like the angel enjoined by the French Master, in his war-time diary..