Madame Butterfly

Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924)

Information on the piece

Japanese tragedy in 3 acts
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
after „Madame Butterfly“ by David Belasco
First performed on 17th February 1904 in Milan
Premiered at the Deutsche Oper Berlin on 20th June 1987

3 hrs / 1 interval

In Italian with German and English surtitles

Pre-performance lecture (in German): 45 minutes prior to each performance

recommended from 14 years
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About the performance

About the work
Lieutenant Pinkerton is attached to an American ship currently moored in Nagasaki harbour. He has been courting a 15-year-old geisha girl named Cio-Cio-san, known as Butterfly, who is from a poor but genteel family and takes love very seriously. Pinkerton wants to enter into a “time-limited marriage” – not uncommon between European men and geishas at the time – and is even being helped by Goro, the marriage agent, to find a cottage in which they can spend their honeymoon. The US consul, Sharpless, warns him against such a step, but Pinkerton brushes him off and even toasts the day when he will take an American to be his “real” wife.

The repercussions of this foreign liaison for the Japanese girl, who has even converted to the creed of her lover, turn out to be grave: she is shunned by her family after the wedding and Pinkerton is hard put to console his “butterfly”. Three years go by. Cio-Cio is living in seclusion with her young child and her faithful servant Suzuki. She declines all marriage proposals from Prince Yamadori as she is persistent in her belief that Pinkerton will return. When Sharpless arrives with a note from Pinkerton asking him to inform her that he is now married to an American woman and will shortly be arriving in Nagasaki, Sharpless is horrified to see that the affair has produced a child and cannot bring himself to mention Kate, the new wife. Cio-Cio, overjoyed, decorates her home, dons her bridal dress and awaits her beloved husband. When Pinkerton visits with Kate and the consul, Suzuki is given the full facts: she is to persuade Butterfly to surrender her child. Pinkerton can’t bear to face Cio-Cio and ducks out of a face-to-face encounter. Butterfly catches sight of the other woman and realises that Pinkerton has come not to stay but to take the child. She asks for half an hour in which to bid farewell to her son. Then she kills herself.

“There are elements of theatre that don’t necessarily overlap. It is meant to interest us, surprise us, touch us. What has my life got to do with heroes and immortal characters? I am uneasy around those kinds of people. As a musician I don’t deal in large scale and grand issues; it’s the little things that make an impression on me and which I like to explore. I liked Manon, for instance, because she had a big heart and no artifice beyond that … And that’s what drew me to Butterfly, because she’s such a transparent, feminine creature yet capable of loving unto death.” Puccini referred to MADAMA BUTTERFLY as his favourite and best work, and indeed it is perfectly in line with his “music of small things” motto. Filigree musical details, delightful melodies for singers, subtly incorporated exotica and sensitive blending of tonal colours in the orchestra have not only made the work an evergreen but also – as with Puccini’s other operas – given subsequent composers something to aspire to.

About the production
At the core of the production at the Deutsche Oper Berlin is the tragedy of the young woman who stays true to her love, despite the misgivings of all those around her. The moody set design, eschewing any folkloric tendency, lends itself to the charm of the piece.

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Adventskalender im Foyer: Das 4. Fensterchen

African American Spirituals
with Christian Simmons and John Parr
5.00 p.m. / Rang-Foyer right
Duration: approx. 25 minutes / admission free

In Germany, it is still little known today that, parallel to the development of the European song, the spiritual in the USA looks back on a tradition that goes back to the 17th century. Created during the oppression of slavery as songs of labour, freedom, play, lamentation, celebration or lullabies, African-American spirituals form the starting point for gospel, blues and ultimately also for jazz, R&B and African-American music in general. Spirituals are characterised by their rhythmic finesse, which includes counter-rhythms, polyrhythms and syncopation. The tonality is characterised by microtonality, pentatonic scales and the varied use of the singing voice. All these elements suggest that the influences of African music, as brought to America by slaves, have survived over the centuries, mostly passed down orally, to this day.

The bass-baritone Christian Simmons, originally from Washington D.C., was a member of the Cafritz Young Artists of the Washington National Opera in the 2022/23 season and joined the ensemble of the Deutsche Oper Berlin as a scholarship holder of the Opera Foundation New York in the 2023/24 season. Over the course of the season, he will appear in roles such as Lord Rochefort / ANNA BOLENA, 2nd Harnischter / DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE, Pinellino / GIANNI SCHICCHI, Brabantischer Edler / LOHENGRIN, Oberpriester des Baal / NABUCCO and Sciarrone / TOSCA. Simmons is the district winner of the Metropolitan Opera's 2022/23 Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition, winner of the 2017 Harlem Opera Theater Vocal Competition, winner of the 2016 National Association of Teaching Singing (NATS) Regional Competition, and an Honorary Life Member of the Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts (CAAPA). A graduate of Morgan State University and the Maryland Opera Studio, Simmons is a member of the nation's first and largest music fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America.

John Parr was born in Birmingham in 1955 and studied at Manchester University and at the Royal Northern College of Music with Sulamita Aronovsky. He won prizes as a solo pianist at international competitions in Barcelona and Vercelli and was a member of Yehudi Menuhin's "Live Music Now". From 1985 to 1988 he was a guest repetiteur at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and worked for the Scottish Opera in Glasgow from 1989 to 1991. He came to Germany in 1991 and was Head of Studies and Musical Assistant to the General Music Director in Hanover. In 2000, Pamela Rosenberg and Donald Runnicles brought him to San Francisco Opera as Head of Music Staff. From 2002 to 2005, he was musical assistant at the Bayreuth Festival. From 2011 to 2014, he was casting director and assistant to the general music director at the Staatstheater Karlsruhe. Since August 2014, John Parr has been working at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, initially as Head of Studies and since 2018 as Head Coach.