An officer, a geisha and love gone badGirl falls in love with boy. Boy leaves girl. Boy returns, with new girl. Heartbreak shatters the lives of all involved. In “Madame Butterfly,” the heartache is full of cultural nuances ― the boy is Captain Pinkerton of the U.S. Navy, stationed in Nagasaki, and the girl is a geisha he must pursue “even though I damage her wings.”
When Captain Pinkerton leaves Japan with a promise to return, the geisha, Cio-Cio San, bears his son and waits for him, dreaming of their life together. But when he returns, beside him is an American wife. Cio-Cio San leaves her son to Captain Pinkerton, and commits suicide.
It was in 1900 that Giacomo Puccini saw a play in London based on a short story, “Madame Butterfly,” by John Luther Long. Inspired by the tale, Puccini created an opera of the same title, first staged at Italy’s La Scala Theater in 1904.
The performance was a disaster. Puccini comforted the prima donna Rosina Storichio with these words: “Although we failed tonight, I am confident this opera will sweep the world in the near future.”
Puccini reworked “Madame Butterfly” and staged it again later in the year, to acclaim. It was a time when everything Japan was de rigeur, and “Madame Butterfly” was no exception. A century later, the opera has swept the world.
To commemorate its centenary, the International Opera Theater has been working with the Puccini Foundation, which hosts the annual Puccini Festival in Italy, to bring “Madame Butterfly” to Korea. The opera will be staged at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts April 1 to 5. It’s the debut of this centennial production, which then moves on to Italy, France, Japan and Argentina.
Sopranos Antonia Cifrone and Mina Taska Yamazaki will sing the role of Cio-Cio San. Cifrone, who performs on opening night, studied under Renata Tebaldi, one of the most celebrated Madame Butterflys. Yamazaki has sung the role in 11 productions; she was in Seoul last year for “Turandot” at the World Cup Stadium. Tenors Mario Malagnini and Silvano Malandra will perform the role of Pinkerton; Malagnini will perform on opening night.
The set design will be more traditional than in the Puccini Festival’s previous staging of the opera, which was very modern and minimalistic. “We’re creating a more traditional set to evoke the feeling of hundreds of years ago,” said Jung Wook, chief of the planning department of the International Opera Theater. The stage will be decorated with 350,000 flowers, to evoke Nagasaki in the lush, promise-filled beginning of spring. Thus will the stage be set for famous arias like “One Fine Day,” “Love Duet” and “Humming Chorus.”
The Puccini Festival was founded in 1930 at Torre del Lago, Italy by two of Puccini’s friends, Giovacchino Forzano and Pietro Mascagni. Shortly before dying, Puccini wrote a letter to Forzano saying, “I always come out [to Torre del Lago] and take a boat to go snipe shooting... but just once I would like to come here and listen to one of my operas in the open air.” With this in mind, the Puccini Festival Outdoor Theater was built there; it will host this production of “Madame Butterfly” when it moves on to Italy.
by Joe Yong-hee
For more information, visit the Web site www.mbutterfly100.com. Tickets range from 50,000 won ($43) to 300,000 won.