Madama Butterfly

The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music Presents

Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly

Saturday, March 17, 2012 7:30 p.m.

The Catholic University of America, Hartke Theater
Parking is available on the North side of Hartke Theatre (between Hartke and Nugent).

Adults $15 / Senior & Student $10
Tickets and Information (will open in a new window)

March 16th, 17th and 18th, the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music will present Puccini’s masterwork: Madama Butterfly. Join us for this exciting operatic performance, featuring students from the School of Music. The Hartke Theater will host the School for this exciting event!

Conductor: Murry Sidlin
Assistant Conductor: Joel Borrelli-Boudreau
Director: David Carl Toulson
Music Director: Katerina Souvorova
Vocal Coach: Fabiana Bravo
Opera Advisor and Voice Division Head: Sharon Christman

Photos from the Show:


Act 1 A hill near Nagasaki; in the foreground a Japanese house with terrace and garden  An orchestral fugato sets a scene of bustling activity as Goro leads Lieutenant Pinkerton out of the house, demonstrating its various appurtenances, in particular the sliding panels – so ridiculously fragile, the lieutenant thinks. The domestic staff are presented to him: a cook, and his future wife’s maid, Suzuki, who at once begins to bore Pinkerton with her chatter. While Goro is reeling off the list of wedding guests, Sharpless enters out of breath, having climbed the hill from Nagasaki. A characteristic motif establishes his benign, good-humoured presence. At Goro’s bidding servants bring drinks and wicker chairs for Sharpless and his host. Pinkerton explains that he has bought the house on a 99-year lease which may be terminated at a month’s notice. In his solo ‘Dovunque al mondo’, framed by the opening strain of The Star-Spangled Banner (later used as a recurrent motif), Pinkerton outlines his philosophy – that of the roving ‘Yankee’ who takes his pleasure where he finds it (‘an easy-going gospel’, observes Sharpless). After sending Goro to fetch the bride, Pinkerton dilates on her charms and his own infatuation. Sharpless recollects having heard her voice when she paid a visit to the consulate. Its ring of simple sincerity touched him deeply and he hopes that Pinkerton will never hurt her. Pinkerton scoffs at his scruples, so typical of unadventurous middle age. Both drink a toast to America (The Star-Spangled Banner again) and, in Pinkerton’s case, to the day when he will take home an American wife. Goro announces the arrival of Butterfly and her friends, heralded by the distant sound of humming female voices. As the procession draws nearer the orchestra unfolds a radiant theme that begins with a series of rising sequences, each phrase ending on a whole-tone chord, then evolves into an extended periodic melody to which an essentially pentatonic motif of Japanese origin forms a hushed coda. Butterfly whose voice has been heard soaring above those of the female throng, has by now appeared. She bows to the two men. Sharpless questions her about her family and background. He learns that her people were once wealthy but have since fallen on hard times, so that she has been forced to earn her living as a geisha. She is 15 years old. Sharpless repeats his warning to Pinkerton. More guests arrive, including Butterfly’s mother, a Cousin, an Aunt and Uncle Yakuside, who immediately asks for wine. Meanwhile the women exchange impressions of the bridegroom (not all of them favourable) until at a sign from Butterfly they all kowtow to Pinkerton and disperse. Butterfly shows Pinkerton her treasures and mementos, which she keeps concealed in her voluminous sleeves – a clasp a clay pipe, a girdle, a pot of rouge (which she throws away in response to Pinkerton’s mocking glance) and a narrow sheath which she hurriedly carries into the house. Goro explains that it holds the dagger with which Butterfly’s father killed himself by the emperor’s command. Re-emerging, she produces puppets that represent the spirits of her forebears. But she adds that she has recently visited the American mission to renounce her ancestral religion and embrace that of her husband. Goro calls for silence; the Imperial Commissioner proclaims the wedding and all join in a toast to the couple’s happiness, ‘O Kami! O Kami!’. (At this point in the original version there was a drunken arietta for Yakuside who broke off to chastise a badly behaved child.) The festivities are interrupted by the Bonze, who bursts in denouncing Butterfly for having forsworn her faith. As her relations scatter in horror the orchestra embodies Heir curse in a whole-tone motif. Alone with his bride Pinkerton comforts her, while Suzuki can be heard muttering her evening prayers to the gods of Japan. There follows an extended duet for the lovers (‘Viene la sera’) woven from several melodic threads, now rapturous, now tender and delicate. Twice the ‘curse’ motif intrudes, first as Butterfly recalls how her family has cast her off, then when she remembers how the most beautiful butterflies are often impaled with a pin. The duet concludes with a grandiose reprise of the theme which accompanied her first appearance.

Act 2 Part i Inside Butterfly’s house Three years have gone by. Butterfly is alone with Suzuki, who is praying to the Japanese gods that her mistress’s sufferings may soon end. Butterfly retorts that such gods are lazy; Pinkerton’s God would soon come to her aid if only He knew where to find her. Their funds are nearly exhausted and Suzuki doubts whether Pinkerton will ever return. Furious, Butterfly reminds her how he had arranged for the consul to pay the rent, how he had put locks on the doors, and how he had promised to return ‘when the robins build their nests’. In a celebrated aria (‘Un bel dì vedremo’) she pictures the scene of Pinkerton’s return and her own joy. Goro arrives with Sharpless, who brings a letter from the lieutenant. Butterfly gives him a cordial welcome, and asks him how often the robins build their nests in America. Sharpless is evasive. Prince Yamadori enters and makes Butterfly an offer of marriage, which she mockingly rejects: she is a married woman according to the laws of America, where divorce, she says is a punishable offense. Yamadori leaves and Sharpless begins to read the letter, breaking the news that Pinkerton intends to go out of Butterfly’s life for ever, but she misunderstands the letter’s drift and he abandons the task. He asks what she would do if Pinkerton were never to return, and she replies that she could resume her profession as a geisha, but that she would rather die by her own hand. Sharpless angers her by advising her to accept Yamadori’s offer, but then she hurries to fetch her son by Pinkerton; astonished and moved, Sharpless promises to inform the father and leaves. Suzuki drags in Goro, whom she has caught spreading slanderous rumours about the child’s parentage. Butterfly threatens to kill him, then dismisses him with contempt. The harbour cannon signals the arrival of a ship. To an orchestral reprise of ‘Un bel dì’ Butterfly seizes a telescope and makes out the name Abraham Lincoln – Pinkerton’s man-of-war. She and Suzuki proceed to deck the house with blossom in a duet (‘Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio’). After adorning herself ‘as on our wedding day’ she, Suzuki and the child settle to a night of waiting, while an unseen chorus of wordless voices recalling the theme to which Sharpless attempted to read Pinkerton’s letter, evokes the slowly fading light.

Act 2 Part ii An interlude, originally joined to the previous humming chorus, depicts Butterfly’s restless thoughts; then, to the distant cries of the sailors the sun rises to disclose Butterfly, Suzuki and the child seated as before. Butterfly sings a lullaby and takes the boy to another room, where she quickly falls asleep. Pinkerton appears with Sharpless. Suzuki catches sight of a woman in the garden and Sharpless tells her that it is Pinkerton’s wife, Kate. Their concern, he tells her, is to ensure the child a good American upbringing. He reproaches the lieutenant for his heartlessness. Pinkerton pours out his grief and remorse in the romanza that Puccini added for Brescia (‘Addio, fiorito asil’) and leaves, unable to face the bride he has betrayed. Butterfly enters, to confront Sharpless, Suzuki and Kate. When the situation is explained to her she bids them retire and return in half an hour. She takes a last farewell of her child and stabs herself behind a screen with her father’s dagger. Pinkerton is heard desperately calling her name. —Oxford Music Online, Julian Budden, entry author

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