Vancouver Opera Presents: Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini

On the evening of March 5th, I had the incredible opportunity to attend Vancouver Opera’s opening night of the famous Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. The approximate run time of the show is 2 hours and 40 minutes with 1 intermission. The opera is presented just like it should be, with a breathtaking set and heart-wrenching music, but parents are warned that since it includes themes of suicide and depression, it may not be suitable for young children.

For those who are unfamiliar with the piece, Madama Butterfly is an opera filled to the brim with heavy-weighing emotions, embodied with deeply intertwined strands of opposing phenomena: hope and despair, trust and betrayal, fleeting love and deep love, and innocence and corruption. Set in Nagasaki, Japan, the opera is split into three acts, each carrying a different emotion and each having a profound effect on the audience.

Hope is the characterizing emotion throughout Act I, accompanied by the heavy foreshadowing of ultimate doom. When Cio-Cio-san (Butterfly) learns that she is to marry an American soldier, she is delighted. Her excitability is uncontainable as she takes extreme measures to please her soon-to-be husband. Her secret conversion to Christianity results in her family disowning her, as well as being ostracized from all her friends and family. At the same time, her soon-to-be American husband B.F. Pinkerton gives Butterfly flittering glances while wishfully thinking about marrying a true American wife one day. From the start, the audience is shown the chasm between the two’s outlook on their marriage, with Butterfly deeply infatuated and Pinkerton only mildly entertained.

Throughout Act II, Butterfly shows unrelenting trust and loyalty to the American husband who has left her for three years. Goro (Julius Ahn), the marriage broker who married her to Pinkterton, tries to remarry her off to Yamadori (Alan Macdonald), a rich aristocrat. The American Consul, Sharpless (Gregory Dahl), has received a letter from Pinkterton which reveals bad news, but Butterfly’s enthusiasm prevents him from finishing his sentences and she ignores the somber atmosphere of those around her. Butterfly’s maid, Suzuki (Allyson McHardy), seeing Butterfly so blindly infatuated is upset and prays for her wellbeing. “Un bel di vedremo” is the piece that wholeheartedly captures Butterfly’s trust as she peers out into the sea day after day with hopes that her husband’s ship will return. It is a trust that no one else but she can see.

Distraught is the only word that can be used to describe Act III. Pinkerton has returned to Nagasaki, but with his new American wife Kate (Eden Tremayne) to take away the son he and Butterfly had together, a son whom she’s named Sorrow. Pinkterton fled from their house because he couldn’t bear to face Butterfly after learning of the trust she placed in him. He leaves Kate and the Consul to tell Butterfly the truth, to which Butterfly replies by claiming that she will only let them take Sorrow away from her if he comes to get Sorrow himself. But before Pinkterton can get to her, Butterfly stabs herself in the neck with a dagger and the scene ends as we hear Pinkterton’s cries of “Butterfly” drawing nearer and nearer.

It was an absolutely amazing ending. Sorrow, Butterfly, and Pinkterton were like layers of despair with their ending positions on the stage. Sorrow knelt near the front of the stage playing with his toy boat, a replica of the American ship that carried Pinkterton. Then we have Butterfly behind, lying in her own pool of blood. And lastly, we have Pinkterton stopped dead in his tracks after his climb up the hills when he sees what’s in front of him; he is a man filled with regret.

“Un bel vi vedremo” is one of the most well-known pieces of the opera. Performed by Butterfly in Act II, it sought the second largest round of applause from the audience that night, with the first being the closing scene. Mihoko Kinoshita’s voice carried her emotions so perfectly that I could feel it in my bones. I’m not going to lie, I shed a few tears throughout the night.

On opening night, Madama Butterfly starred Mihoko Kinoshita as Cio-Cio-san and Richard Troxell as B.F. Pinkerton. The pair singing opposite of each other share their roles with Jee Hye Han and Adam Luther, who play Cio-Cio-san and B.F. Pinkerton respectively, on alternating show days. You can still catch the show the rest of this week by visiting www.vancouveropera.ca or by calling (604) 683-0222 for tickets. But beware, you may fall in love.

You can buy tickets for the following show dates:

  • Friday, March 11 @7:30pm
  • Saturday, March 12 @7:30 pm
  • Sunday, March 13 @2:00 pm matinée (closing show)

Thank you, Mihoko Kinoshita. It was absolutely magnificent.

All photos are provided by the Vancouver Opera.