ENO research: Madame Butterfly

Opera Background:

Madame Butterfly” is a short story by American lawyer and writer John Luther Long. It is based on the recollections of Long’s sister, Jennie Correll, who had been to Japan with her husband, a Methodist missionary, and was influenced by Pierre Loti’s 1887 novel Madame Chrysanthème.


Madam Butterfly (in Italian Madama Butterfly) is one of opera’s most enduring tales of unrequited love. Puccini’s poignant score follows the tragic tale of Cio Cio San, a young Japanese girl who falls in love with American naval officer Pinkerton, with devastating consequences.

“A tender kiss can conceal the hardest of hearts.”

Anthony Minghella’s Olivier Award-winning production returns to the London Coliseum. His staging combines cinematic images and traditional Japanese theatre [2].

Background Research on Writers & Producers:
• An opera in 3 acts written by Puccini (Italian)
• Based on short story by John Luther Long (1898)
• Inspired by stories from his sister Jennie Correll and the semiautobiographical 1887 French novel Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre
• The original version of the opera, comprised of two acts, premiered on 17
February 1904 in Milan. It was unsuccessful, mostly due to lack of
rehearsing due to late completion of the opera by Puccini.
• Puccini later revised it to 3 acts and earned success following this.
• Madama Butterfly has now become one of the most famous operas,
ranked 6th by Operabase.

Aesthetics research:
• Palette: red, white and black are common colours in various productions
• Movement: Live fan dances
• Movement: Puppetry from Blind Summit Theatre Puppetry (ENO)
• Style: Traditional Japanese theatre x Cinematic Images (Anthony Minghella Olivier)
• Use of silhouettes and reflection (black x red) for Butterfly
• Aesthetics and palette for different cultures: White, lace and feathers for Kate Pinkerton

Socio-political Context:
• Short story written in 1898 by John Luther Long, and was partially
inspired by the semi-autobiographical 1887 French novel Madame
• Puccini watched it in 1900, and the opera premiered in 1904.
• Japanese-American relations had just begun in the mid-1850’s, as a result of U.S. diplomatic, but force-backed pursuits.
• Towards the beginning of 1900s, the relationship between Japan and America was tense.
• Both had interests in various territory in Asia.
• U.S. treatment towards Japanese immigrants in China were also a factor for increased tension.
• However, their interest in protecting their own interests and economy lead to the formation of agreements between the two parties such as the Japan Treaty of Peace and Amity signed on March 31, 1854.
• 1900’s were a time gender roles were very defined and restricted universally; hence it marriage would not always be due to mutual agreement or love.


To conclude, this piece is very captivating; a story of unrequited love. I am excited to see how Madam Butterfly projects turn out!

Until next time!

[1] Eno.org. (2019). Madam Butterfly | 2019/20 Season | English National Opera. [online] Available at: https://www.eno.org/whats-on/madam-butterfly/ [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].
[2] LIVE JAPAN. (2019). Behind the Stereotype: “Japanese People Are So Nice and Polite!” – LIVE JAPAN. [online] Available at: https://livejapan.com/en/in-tokyo/in-pref-tokyo/in-tokyo_suburbs/article-a0001921/ [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].

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