Some thoughts on Madama Butterfly...
When I’m directing a piece for the first time, I like to go back and dig through the source material, whether it’s a play, novel, or a story “ripped from the headlines.” It helps me understand what attracted the librettist and composer to the story and also helps me find details that may have been lost in translation. The sources of Madama Butterfly are particularly thorny and hard to sift through. Puccini and his librettists, Giacosa and Illica, used a variety of texts to create their opera: John Luther Long’s novella, Madame Butterfly, David Belasco’s play of the same name based on the novella, and Pierre Loti’s novel Madame Chrysanthème. Behind each of these, is the true story of a Japanese woman who “marries” a foreigner for a time, has a child with him, and is subsequently abandoned. Belasco makes it a tragedy, having Butterfly take her own life rather than live with the shame of her predicament. Butterfly’s suicide elevates the story from a journalistic narrative to classical tragedy. With Butterfly’s death, there are moral consequences for the sailor’s actions...