Giacomo Puccini

Japanese tragedy in three acts
Libretto: Giuseppe Giacosa, Luigi Illica
World premiere: 17 February 1904, Regio Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Polish premiere: 3 December 1908, Teatr Wielki, Warsaw
Premiere of this production: 29 May 1999, Polish National Opera, Teatr Wielki, Warsaw
In the original Italian with Polish surtitles 

The story of Cio-Cio-San is one of the most beautiful Puccini operas about love. To think that its 1904 premiere at Milan’s La Scala was one of the most bitter experiences in the composer’s life! The atmosphere in the auditorium was almost unbearable. ‘La Bohème!’ chanted the crowd, accusing Puccini of reusing his musical ideas, while booing and yawning ostentatiously. The performance was a complete and utter failure. The composer was savaged by the critics. Rewritten and restaged at the Teatro Grande in Brescia, the opera scored an ultimate triumph. The audience demanded encores of seven passages and the opera became a favourite with theatre programmers around the world.

The Warsaw premiere of Mariusz Treliński’s production of Butterfly was almost as successful. The staging dazzled nearly everyone, including Plácido Domingo, who said in a 2006 interview: ‘Never before in my long life have I seen such an excellent production of Madama Butterfly. But that is not all. It is one of the most beautiful performances I have ever seen in all of opera…’ It was thanks to him that the Treliński/Kudlička duo’s staging was shown at the Washington Opera.

The American audiences were dazzled, too. And so were the critics. Numerous enthusiastic reviews were published in the press. The Washington Times wrote: ‘It is logical and beautiful in an entirely unexpected way. Perhaps, most of all, the simple settings focus attention where it needs to be on the characters and Puccini’s gorgeous, Debussy-tinged score, acted and sung by a first-rate cast.’

At the time, Mariusz Treliński and Boris Kudlička’s Madama Butterfly became the duo’s greatest success and opened the way for the Polish National Opera to join the elite group of internationally reputed opera companies. The production was subsequently staged at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia, the Israeli Opera in Tel-Aviv, the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari in Sardinia and the Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman.

Of all the Puccini’s heroines, Butterfly is portrayed with the greatest psychological realism. The audience watch as she clings to vain hope, is subjected to thoughtless cruelty, makes a desperate decision after losing everything that have ever mattered to her and resigns herself to her fate in the finale of the show.  

Madama Butterfly is a beautiful and thoroughly coherent production that amazes with Boris Kudlička’s refreshingly creative sets devoid of unnecessary props or tacky exoticism and stylistically sophisticated costumes by Magdalena Tesławska and Paweł Grabarczyk. And above all, Puccini’s brilliant score featuring Japanese songs adapted to the harmonic system of European music. The composer brilliantly evoked the Orientalist colour through the use of the whole-tone and special scales, especially in the opening bars of the symphonic prelude to the third act. Not to mention the exquisite love duet at the end of Act 1, Bimba dagli occhi, and Cio-Cio-San’s beautiful love aria, Un bel dì vedremo.



Chorus and Orchestra of the Polish National Opera
Mime artists


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    Act I

    An American naval ship has stopped for an extended period in a Japanese port. Pinkerton, a young lieutenant, is finding his monotonous life hard to bear; to brighten up his life he uses the services of Goro, a Japanese matchmaker who – for a fee – introduces him to the young geisha Cio-Cio-San, also known as Butterfly. According to Japanese custom, Pinkerton is to marry her and the marriage is to be valid for 999 years. Goro takes the lieutenant to a rented house on a hill above the city and introduces his future wife’s servants. The wedding ceremony approaches – the first guest to arrive is the American consul in Nagasaki, Sharpless. He takes the matter of Pinkerton’s marriage more seriously than the young lieutenant and warns him not to destroy the life of the young Japanese girl who truly loves him.

    Cio-Cio-San arrives with her family and a large group of Japanese girls. She tells Pinkerton that she went to see the missionaries that morning to convert to the Christian faith, and that for him she is prepared to break all ties to her family and her environment. The registrar reads out the marriage certificate. The festive wedding atmosphere is disturbed by the sudden arrival of the bride’s uncle, the Bonze, who has discovered the secret of her baptism and curses her for abandoning the faith of her fathers and marrying a foreigner. He leaves Pinkerton’s house, and the terrified wedding guests hurriedly follow. Butterfly and Pinkerton are left alone. Night falls. Act one ends with a magnificent love duet, one of the most beautiful in world opera (‘Bimba deli occhi’).

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    Act II

    Three years have passed since Pinkerton’s wedding. Every spring Butterfly and her little son await her husband, who left soon after the wedding, promising he would certainly return. They live in poverty, and Butterfly’s faithful maid Suzuki is afraid they will grow even poorer because she has no hope Pinkerton will return. Butterfly, on the other hand, unswervingly believes he will keep his word. Sharpless the consul appears unexpectedly and is greeted joyfully by Butterfly. During his visit, the wealthy prince Yamadori also arrives. Goro the matchmaker is helping him woo Cio-Cio- San, but the young woman keeps rejecting the prince. She still considers herself to be Pinkerton’s wife and refuses to accept Japanese divorce customs. She doesn’t change her mind even when Sharpless tries diplomatically to tell her that Pinkerton has no intention of coming back to her. Cio-Cio-San doesn’t believe the consul (the aria ‘Un bel di vedremo’ – ‘One fine day’). She shows him her little boy and asks him to tell Pinkerton that she and the child are still waiting for him. Embarrassed by his sad mission, Sharpless leaves Butterfly’s house; a while later she chases away the importunate Goro.

    A cannon shot announces Pinkerton’s ship. Together with Suzuki the elated Butterfly decorates the entire house with flowers (the duet ‘Scuoti quelle fronda’) and, in her wedding dress, awaits her husband’s arrival. Dusk falls; the singing of returning fishermen can be heard in the distance. No one appears on the path leading to Butterfly’s house…

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    Act III

    The night has passed. Exhausted from waiting, Butterfly has fallen asleep. It’s only now that Sharpless and Pinker- ton appear in the garden in front of the house. Suzuki is astonished to see an unfamiliar elegant lady accompanying them. It is Pinkerton’s wife, who has come with her husband to take away his son. Arriving moments later, Cio-Cio-San immediately guesses the truth and knows what she must do. She dismisses everyone and takes the old ance- stral knife on which are inscribed the words ‘Who cannot live with honour must die with honour’. Having bid her child farewell, Cio-Cio-San stabs herself with the knife. In a final moment of consciousness, she turns towards Pinkerton as he rushes into the room crying ‘Butterfly!’.


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