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Madame Butterfly

Opera Background

ComposerGiacomo Puccini
LibrettistLuigi Illica
Giuseppe Giacosa
Date of PremierFebruary 17, 1904
Number of ActsOriginally two, later changed to three
Music LengthTwo Hours, Twenty Minutes

Madame Butterfly by composer Giacomo Puccini was based on a one-act play “Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan”. After a disastrous performance on it’s premier in 1904 Puccini would go on to make revisions and updated the opera 5 times to get to the Madame Butterfly we know as the standard version today. Part of these revisions was to split up the second act into a second, and third, act. However, many Madame Butterfly recordings, performances, and this synopsis are often performed in two acts.

Madame Butterfly is a story about a playboy American soldier who marries a young Japanese bride because of Japan’s relaxed marriage laws. He abandons her only to return with his American wife, to find out he has had a child in Japan all these years. Tragic and beautiful at the same time, it is easy to see why Madame Butterfly is an essential part of Puccini’s repertoire.

Quick Answers

Where Did Madame Butterfly Premier?

Madame Butterfly premiered at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy, on February 17, 1904

Is Madame Butterfly a Good First Opera?

Puccini’s well-known operas like Madame Butterfly, La Boheme, and Turandot are all very approachable operas for people just getting introduced to opera. That being said, Bizet’s Carmen or Verdi’s La Traviata may be a better option for a first opera due to the very recognizable musical numbers.

What is the most famous song from Madame Butterfly

Although there are a number of musical numbers that gained international popularity, the aria “Un bel dì, vedremo” from Act 2 is the most renown, and is normally a cornerstone of soprano repertoires

“Un bel dì, vedremo” from the album ‘The Very Best of Maria Callas”

Who is Madame Butterfly?

In the Opera “Madame Butterfly”, Butterfly is the English name (Japanese: chōchō) of the main female role. She is a girl living in Japan who marries a US naval officer.

Was Madame Butterfuly a Geisha?

In Puccini’s opera, Cio-Cio San grew up in poverty and had to work as a geisha to support her family. But she proceeds to marry Benjamin Pinkerton and no longer had to work as a Geisha


  • Cio-Cio San, a 15-year-old japanese girl (soprano)
  • Suzuki, her loyal maid (mezzo-Soprano)
  • Benjamin Pinkerton, a US naval lieutenant (tenor)
  • Sharpless, the US consul to Nagasaki (baritone)
  • Goro, the matchmaker (tenor)
  • Prince Yamadori (tenor)
  • The Bonze, Cio-Cio San’s uncle (bass)
  • Kate Pinkerton, Benjamin’s American wife (mezzo-soprano)

Musical Numbers

Musical Numbers – Act 1

  • Overture
  • “E soffitto e pareti”: Goro introduces Pinkerton to his new home in Japan
  • “Questa è la cameriera”: Goro introduces Pinkerton to the maid and gardener
  • “Dovunque al mondo”: Pinkerton singe of the joys of being a free travelling Yankee
  • “Amore o grillo”: Pinketon sings of his infatuation with Cio-Cio San, and his dubious intentions with her
  • “Quanto cielo! Quanto mar!”: The bridal procession arrives and greets Pinkerton
  • “Gran ventura”: Cio-Cio San explains her childhood
  • “L’Imperial Commissario”: Officials arrive and the family expresses their doubts of the marriage
  • “Vieni, amor mio!”: Cio-Cio San shows Pinkerton to some of her most prized possessions
  • “Ieri son salita tutta sola”: Cio-Cio San explains how she secretly converted to Christianity
  • “Tuttu Zitti!”: The Commissioner marries Pinkerton and Cio-Cio San
  • “Cio-cio-san!”: The Bonze arrives to reproach Cio-Cio San
  • “Bimba, bimba, non piangere”: Pinkerton consoles Cio-Cio San
  • “Viene la sera”: Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton prepare for their first night with each other
  • “Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malìa”: Pinkerton and Cio-Cio San sing of love

Musical Numbers – Act 2

  • “And Izagi and Izanami, Sarundasico”: Cio-Cio San and Suzuki argue whether Pinkerton will return
  • “C’è. Entrate.”: Sharpless reads a letter from Pinkerton
  • “Non lo sapete insomma.”
  • “A voi però giurerei fede costante”: Prince Yamadori expresses his wishes to be Cio-Cio San’s husband
  • “Ora a noi. Sedete qui”: Sharpless reads the message from Pinkerton
  • “E questo?”: Sharpless is introduced to Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton’s child
  • “Che tua madre dovrà prenderti in braccio”: Cio-Cio San explains hoe she would rather die than return to the life of a beggar
  • “Vespa! Rospa maledetto!”: Cio-Cio San threatens to kill Goro
  • “Una nave da guerra…”: Cio-Cio San spots Pinkerton’s ship in the harbor
  • “Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio”: Cio-Cio San prepares the home for Pinkerton’s arrival
  • “Or vienmi ad adornar”: Cio-Cio San dresses up and get’s her child prepared for Pinkerton’s arrival
  • “Gia il sole!”: The sun rises and Suzuki tells Cio-Cio San to get some rest
  • “Povera Butterfly!”: Pinkerton arrives with his American wife
  • “Io so che alle sue pene”: Pinkerton is remorseful for leaving Cio-Cio San
  • “Addio fiorito asil“: Pinkerton says a somber goodbye to his home in Japan
  • “Glielo dirai?”: Suzuki agrees to tell Cio-Cio San grave news
  • “Quella donna? Che vuol da me?”: Cio-Cio San is told of Pinkerton’s wife, and that he will never return
  • “Come una mosca prigioniera”: Cio-Cio San orders Suzuki to leave her
  • “Con onor muore chi non può serbar vita con onore.”: Cio-Cio San reads the inscription on her father’s knife and prepares to take her life

Madame Butterfly Full Synopsis

Full Synopsis – Act 1

Act one opens with the matchmaker Goro walking US Naval Lieutenant Benjamin Pinkerton through his new home in Japan (“E soffite, e pareti” – “And the ceiling, and the walls”). He then introduces him to the maid and the gardener (“Questa è la cameriera” – “This is the maid”). Once they take their leave, Pinkerton asks Goro if everything is ready for the arrival of his new bride. Goro responds that all is ready, and that she will arrive with her family spare her Uncle Bonze. He thanks Goro (referring to him as a “marriage broker”), and the US consul Sharpless arrives. Pinkerton tells Sharpless that he bought the house with the right to break contract at any time, and refers to the loose contract laws of Japan. Pinkerton then begins to sing about the various joys of being a travelling Yankee, expressing his satisfaction from making love to beautiful women all around the world (“Dovunque al mondo” – “Everywhere in the world”). He also refers to the relaxed law of Japanese marriage, and how fond he is of the right to cancel his marriage contract whenever he wants.

“Dovenque al mondo” performed live at the Hong Kong Opera House

Pinkerton then sings of Cio-Cio San’s beauty, and how she flutters around like a butterfly (“Amore o grillo” – “Love or whim”). He comments that he simply must have this butterfly, even if it means breaking her wings. Sharpless is hesitant with Pinkerton’s ideas, and feels sorry for Cio-Cio San, but Pinkerton doesn’t listen, and toasts to the day he marries a true American bride.

Tenor Brian Cheney sings “Amore o grillo” in 2011

The bridal party makes their way up the hill and to the house (“Quanto cielo! Quanto mar!” – “How wide the sky is! How wide the sea is!”). Cio-Cio San sings of her happiness to her friends, and how she’s answering to the call of love. Seeing Pinkerton, the bridal party all bow to him. Cio-Cio San greets Pinkerton, and goes on to tell Sharpless and Pinkerton that her family was thrown into poverty by a hurricane, and to support themselves the women had to work as geishas (“Gran ventura.” – “Great fortune”). She tells Sharpless that her mother is very poor and her father is dead. When askes her age she responds that she is 15 years old. Sharpless is shocked, but Pinkerton brushes his concerns off again.

“Gran ventura performed live at the Minnesota Opera”

Cio-Cio Sans relatives all comment on how Pinkerton is like a king and how lucky she is. as the Imperial Comissioner and magistrate arrive some of the family begins to mock the marriage, Goro tells them to keep quiet (“L’Imperial Commissario” – “The Imperial Commissioner”). Cio-Cio San begins to show Pinkerton some of her prized possession, including the knife that took her fathers life (“Vieni, amor mio!” – “Come my love”). She goes on to explain that in preparation for her new life with Pinkerton she had secretly gone and converted to Christianity (“Ieri son salita tutta sola” – “Yesterday I climbed all alone”). She did this without her family knowing so that they could pray to the same god and to make him happy.

Soprano Makiko Awazu (Ciociosan) sings “Ieri son salita tutta sola”

The commissioner appears and has Pinkerton and Cio-Cio San sign their names, officially sealing their marriage (“Tuttu Zitti!” – “All silent!”). From a distance Cio-Cio San’s name is called out (“Cio-cio-san!”). It is her Uncle, a Bonze (a buddhist monk), who has come to reproach her for abandoning her religion. The family calls out that she has renounced them all, and leave with the Bonze, leaving Cio-Cio San on the floor in tears.

Pinkerton consoles Cio-Cio San, telling her that her family isn’t worth her tears (“Bimba, bimba, non piangere” – “Baby, baby, don’t cry”). She is comforted by his words, and declares that although she is rejected, she is happy. The night arrives, and as Cio-Cio San changes into her evening gown, Pinkerton is filled with desire (“Viene la sera”). They begin to sing of love. and Pinkerton tells her he’s loved her since he first set eyes on her (“Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malìa” – “Little girl with eyes full of malice”). They prepare for their first night together.

Savatore Fisichella and Raina Kabaivanska perform “Bimba dagli occhi pieni di mala”

Full Synopsis – Act 2

Act 2 opens with Suzuki praying to Japanese gods to stop Cio-Cio San from crying (“E Izagi ed Izanami, Sarundasico” – “And Izagi, and Izanami, Sarundasico”). It has been some time since Pinkerton left the home, and Cio-Cio San and Suzuki are almost out of money and food. Suzuki doubts that Pinkerton will return, but Cio-Cio San is positive he will, for why else would he have the Consul continue to pay rent and put locks ont he doors? Suzuki is disheartened by Cio-Cio San’s optimism. This is when Cio-Cio San begins her aria picturing the day Pinkerton will return (“Un bel dì, vedremo” – “A good day, we’ll see”).

Soprano Hiromi Omura sings the famous “Un Bel Di, Vedremo” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Recorded in 2013 for Opera Australia.

Goro and Sharpless enter Butterfly’s home. She is delighted to have an American guest back in her home, but Sharpless seems on-edge (“C’è. Entrate.” – “There she is. Enter.”). He tells Cio-Cio San that he has received a letter from Pinkerton. She inquires as to his health, and Goro laughs when she asks Sharpless how often Robins nest in America, for Pinkerton told her upon leaving that he will return when the robins nest. She comments how Goro has been trying to marry her off to other men since Pinkerton left. At that moment Prince Yamadori enters and expresses his interest to marry Cio-Cio San (“A voi però giurerei fede costante” – “But I would swear to you constant faith”). Cio-Cio San refuses. She explains that in her country (America), divorce is not so simple.

Sharpless finally mustering the nerve to speak, and sits Cio-Cio San down to read the letter (“Ora a noi. Sedete qui” – “Now to our business. Sit here”). Sharpless begins to read the start of the letter, which tells of his return to Japan. Cio-Cio San is so overjoyed to hear he is returning that Sharpless doesn’t have the heart to continue reading the letter, which obviously contains bad news. He asks Cio-Cio San what she would do if he would never return. She replies that her only options would be to go back to being a geisha or die.

Eiko Senda performs “Ora a noi, sedete qui”

Sharpless tells her she must marry Prince Yamadori, which angers her, and she sends Suzuki to show him out. She apologizes to Sharpless for losing her temper, and at that moment a blue-eyed child appears. Cio-Cio reveals that it is Pinkerton’s son, who she gave birth to after he returned to America (“E questo?” – “And this one?”). She tells Sharpless that Pinkerton has no knowledge of the child, and he ought to write to make him aware that his child is waiting for him. She kneels by her child and explains how that man (Sharpless) had the heart to think she would have to return to the streets and live the life of a beggar, she declares she would rather die (c – “That your mother would have to take you in her arms”). As Sharpless prepares to leave, he asks the boys name. Cio-Cio San replies that today his name is Sorrow, but the day of his father’s return it will be Joy (“Io scendo al piano” – “I’m going downstairs”). Sharpless promises to tell Pinkerton as he leaves.

Suzuki drags Goro in and throws him violently, she tells Cio-Cio San that Goro has been spreading rumors that nobody knows who the father of her child is (“Vespa! Rospa maledetto!” “Wasp! Damned Reptile!”). Goro says he merely told people that a child born in this manner in America is considered a bastard child and will always be an outcast. Cio-Cio San is thrown into a rage and threatens to kill Goro before they throw him out of the house. Cio-Cio San sees an American warship pulling into the harbor, and identifies it as Pinkerton’s ship (“Una nave da guerra…” – “A warship”). She begins to frantically prepare for his arrival, spreading flowers of all kinds around the home (“”Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio” – “Shake that cherry tree branch”).

Latonia Moore sings the role of Butterfly and J’Nai Bridges sings Suzuki in “Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio” from 2016’s Madama Butterfly which features the San Diego Symphony.

Cio-Cio San and Suzuki put make up on the baby, and put on their nice gowns (“Or vienmi ad adornar.” – “Now come adorn me”), and wait up late into the night looking over the harbor. Suzuki and the child fall asleep, but Cio-Cio San stay’s up the entire night.

The sun rises, and Suzuki seeing how tired Cio-Cio San is, urges her to get some rest. She tells her she will inform her when Pinkerton arrives (“Gia il sole!” – “The sun has risen!”). Soon after Cio-Cio San goes to rest, Pinkerton arrives with Sharpless and an American woman (“Povera Butterfly!” – “Poor Butterfly”). Suzuki tells them to keep their voices down, as Cio-Cio San was up all night decorating and waiting. She inquires as to who the woman is. Sharpless, stern and serious, tells Suzuki that it his wife from America. Sharpless goes on to say they have chosen this hour because they need her help. They have decided that it is best for the child to send him with Pinkerton and his American wife, who has agreed to care for him (“Io so che alle sue pene” – “I know for all of her suffering”). Suzuki is disheartened, and goes out to meet Pinkerton’s American wife, who won’t enter the home because the smell of flowers is too strong. Left alone in the home Sharpless speaks to Pinkerton, who now claims he is “consumed by remorse”. Not being able to stand it any longer, Pinkerton begins to say goodbye to the home (“Addio fiorito asil” – “Farewell, flowery refuge”), declaring himself a coward.

Joshua Guerrero and Michael Sumuel perform ‘Addio fiorito asil’ at Glyndebourne Opera House, June 2018

Upon leaving, Pinkerton’s wife requests one last time that Suzuki delivers their message to Cio-Cio San. Suzuki agrees (“Glielo dirai?” – “You’ll tell her?”). Cio-Cio San calls out, and Suzuki begins to rush Sharpless and Pinkerton’s American wife out of the house, but Cio-Cio San comes running in in time to see them, unable to find Pinkerton who had already fled.

Cio-Cio san sees the woman and asks about her, Suzuki and Sharpless are silent. Suzuki begins to cry, and Cio-Cio San begins to guess what has happened to Pinkerton (“Quella donna? Che vuol da me?” – “That woman, what does she want from me?”), and eventually is told by Pinkerton that the woman is Pinkerton’s wife, and that he will never return. Cio-Cio San guesses correctly that they want to take her son and is heartbroken, exclaiming she is ruined. She calls Pinkerton’s wife the luckiest woman in the world, and tells her to not be sad on her behalf and agrees to take the sacrifice for her child as long as Pinkerton is willing to come get him. Sharpless and Pinkerton’s wife leave the home to get him. Left alone with Suzuki, Cio-Cio San falls to the floor sobbing (“Come una mosca prigioniera” – “Like a captive fly”). Cio-Cio San yells that there is too much light and orders Suzuki to close the shades. She then tells Suzuki to go keep her child company, and Suzuki reluctantly leaves.

Cio-Cio San goes to the cabinet and pulls out the knife that took her father’s life (from act 1). She reads the words engraved on the knife, “he who can no longer live with honor, shall die with honor” (“Con onor muore chi non può serbar vita con onore.”). As she prepares to take her life, her son runs in. She gives her son a heartfelt goodbye and sends him off to play. Cio-Cio San then takes her own life, and as she is breathing her final breaths Pinkerton runs to her yelling “Butterfly! Butterfly!”

Ermonela Jaho sings the finale