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Visit OperaQ&A for the inside scoop on all things opera. From production information to fast facts and conversation starters, this is your go-to-guide to learn more about the incredible world of opera.

Madama Butterfly


Name: Giacomo Puccini, or formally – Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini – can you imagine fitting that on a driver’s licence!
Life: 22 December 1858 – 29 November 1924
In a nutshell: Giacomo Puccini was an Italian composer whose operas are among the most performed works in the operatic repertoire. Puccini completed his first opera at the age of 26 entitled Le Villi and composed 9 others over his 40-year career including La boheme, Turandot and his personal favorite, Madama Butterfly.

Oh really?

  • Puccini was known to be involved in many scandalous acts of adultery. During the time that Madama Butterfly was written, he and his wife were having publicized troubles.
  • In addition to women, Puccini also had a great love affair with cars and was responsible for the construction of the first Italian off-road vehicle. In 1903, however, he was seriously injured in a car accident during a night time journey on the road from Lucca to Torre del Lago. The car, driven by Puccini’s chauffeur and carrying Puccini, his wife Elvira and their son Antonio careered off the road, fell several metres, and flipped over. Puccini was rescued from underneath the vehicle by a passerby and a doctor living near the scene of the accident.
  • Puccini’s broken leg and other injuries did not heal well and consequently slowed completion of his next work, Madama Butterfly.
  • Puccini passed away before he could finish his final opera, Turandot. Franco Alfano wrote the final 2 scenes based on the composer’s sketches.
  • A chain smoker of cigars and cigarettes, Puccini began to complain of chronic sore throats towards the end of 1923. Diagnosed with throat cancer, his doctors advised that he undergo a new and experimental radiation therapy offered in Brussels. Puccini died from complications a day after the treatment on 29 November 1924. When news of Puccini’s death reached Rome during a performance of La bohème, the opera was immediately stopped and the orchestra played Chopin’s Funeral March.

Puccini Image Banner
[LEFT] Puccini and his Steinway [RIGHT] Puccini and family in one of his cars


What happens in the story?

Madama Butterfly tells the story of Cio-Cio-San, a Japanese teenager, who falls in love with Benjamin Pinkerton, an American naval officer, and is shunned by her family for marrying him. Soon after the wedding, her new husband sails back to America, leaving her to give birth to their son and patiently wait – as the seasons come and go – for his return. Although destitute and derided, she is sustained in her vigil by the hope that – one fine day – her husband’s ship will appear on the horizon. Pinkerton eventually returns with his new American wife resulting in a dramatic finale.

Who are the main characters?

Cio-Cio-San – Madama Butterfly
Benjamin Pinkerton – a US naval officer
Sharpless – United States consul at Nagasaki
Sukuzi – Cio Cio San’s maid

Madama Butterfly historical banner
[LEFT] Original poster by Adolfo Hohenstein [RIGHT] American opera singer and film actress, Geraldine Farrar as Cio-Cio-San in 1907.

Did you know?

  • Puccini believed Madama Butterfly was his greatest work –“The most heartfelt and evocative opera I have ever conceived.” Giacomo Puccini
  • If you listen carefully, you can hear Japanese melodies interwoven through the score including Kimigayo, the nation anthem of Japan, and Sakura Sakura. Additionally the American national anthem – The Star-Spangled Banner – can be heard during scenes involving Pinkerton.
  • Bring Him Home from Les Miserables is very similar to Humming Chorus in Act 2 of Madama Butterfly. Les Miserables is well known for being heavily influenced by Puccini’s work.
  • Miss Saigon is a modern remake of Madama Butterfly.
  • The blockbuster film Fatal Attraction starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close makes several references to Madama Butterfly with the soundtrack featuring extracts from the opera. The alternate ending of the film shows Alex committing suicide in an identical fashion as Cio-Cio San while Un bel dì plays in the background.
  • Madama Butterfly is best known for its famous Act 2 melodies; Un bel dì and the Humming Chorus.

Madama Butterfly contemporary references

Experience Madama Butterfly this May at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC – 5 shows only!

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