Japanese Lyric Tragedy in three acts by Giacomo Puccini. Founded on the book of John Luther Long and the drama by David Belasco. Text by Illica and Giacosa.
The scene is laid in Nagasaki in our own time. The first act takes place on a hill, from which there is a grand view of the ocean and of the town below.
Goro, a marriage broker, shows his new Japanese house to an American naval lieutenant, Pinkerton, who has purchased it in Japanese fashion for 999 years, with the right of giving monthly notice. He is waiting for his bride Cho-Cho-San, called Butterfly, whom he is about to wed under the same queer conditions for one hundred yens (a yen about one dollar).
Butterfly’s maid Suzuki and his two servants are presented to him, but he is impatient to embrace his sweetheart, with whom he is very much in love.
Sharpless, the United States consul, who tells him much good of the little bride, warns him not to bruise the wings of the delicate butterfly, but Pinkerton only laughs at his remonstrances.
At last Butterfly appears with her companions. At her bidding, they all shut their umbrellas and kneel to their friend’s future husband, of whom the girl is very proud. Questioned by the consul about her family, she tells him that they are of good origin, but that, her father having died, as a geisha (dancing-girl) she has to support herself and her mother. She is but fifteen and very sweet and tender-hearted.
When in procession her relations come up, they all do obeisance to Pinkerton. They are all jealous of Butterfly’s good luck and prophesy an evil end, but the girl perfectly trusts and believes in her lover and even confides to him that she has left her own gods, to pray henceforth to the God of her husband.
When Pinkerton begins to show her their house, she produces from her sleeve her few precious belongings. These are some silken scarfs, a little brooch, a looking-glass, and a fan; also a long knife, which she at once hides in a corner of the house. Goro tells Pinkerton that it is the weapon with which her father performed hara-kiri (killed himself). The last things she shows her lover are some little figures representing the souls of her ancestors.
When the whole assembly is ready, they are married by the commissary. Pinkerton treats his relations to champagne, but soon the festival is interrupted by the dismal howls of Butterfly’s uncle, the bonze ( Buddhist monk), who climbs the hill and tells the relations that the wretched bride has denied her faith, and has been to the mission-house, to adopt her husband’s religion. All turn from her with horror and curse her. But Pinker-ton consoles his weeping wife, and the act closes with a charming love-duet.
The second act shows Butterfly alone. Pinkerton has left her, and she sits dreamily with her faithful maid Suzuki, who vainly implores her gods to bring back the faithless husband. The young wife, who has been waiting three long years for his return, still firmly believes his promise to come back when the robin should build its nest. She refuses a proposal of marriage from Prince Yamadori, who has loved her for years. and now tries again to win the forsaken wife. She answers him with quiet dignity, that, though by Japanese law a wife is considered free as soon as her husband has left her, she considers herself bound by the laws of her husband’s country. and Yamadori leaves her.
Sharpless now enters with a letter he has received from Pinkerton. Not daring to let her know its con-tents at once, he warns her that her husband will never return, and advises her to accept Prince Yamadori’s offer. Butterfly is at first startled and alarmed, but soon she recovers herself, and beckoning to Suzuki, she shows Sharpless her little fair-haired, blue-eyed boy, begging the consul to write and tell her husband that his child is awaiting him.
Sharpless. deeply touched, takes leave of her, with-out having shown the letter, when Suzuki enters screaming and accusing Goro. who has goaded her to fury, by spreading a report in the town that the child’s father is not known.
“You lie, you coward !” cries Butterfly, seizing a knife to kill the wretch. But suppressing her wrath she throws away the weapon and kicks him from her in disgust. Suddenly a cannon-shot is heard. Running on to the terrace, Butterfly perceives a war-ship in the harbor, bearing the name “Abraham Lincoln.” It is Pinkerton’s ship.
All her troubles arc forgotten ; she bids her maid gather all the flowers in the garden; these she scatters around in profusion. Then she brings her boy. and bids Suzuki comb her hair, while she herself rouges her pale checks and those of her child. Then they sit down behind a partition, in which they have made holes, through which they may watch the ship and await Pinkerton’s arrival.
The third act finds them in the same position. Suzuki and the child have fallen asleep, while Butterfly, sleepless, watches for Pinkerton. Suzuki waking sees that it is morning and begs her mistress to take some rest. Butterfly, taking her child in her arms, retires into the inner room.
A loud knock is heard, and Suzuki finds herself in the presence of Sharpless and Pinkerton. The latter signs to her not to waken Butterfly. Suzuki is showing him the room adorned with flowers for his arrival, when she suddenly perceives a lady walking in the garden and hears that she is Pinkerton’s lawful American wife.
Sharpless, taking the maid aside, begs her to pre-pare her mistress for the coming blow and tells her that the foreign lady desires to adopt her husband’s little boy. Pinkerton himself is deeply touched by the signs of Butterfly’s undying love. Full of remorse, he entreats Sharpless to comfort her as best he can, and weeping, leaves the scene of his first love-dream.
His wife Kate returning to the foot of the terrace, sweetly repeats her wish to adopt the little boy, when Butterfly, emerging from the inner room, comes to look for her long-lost husband, whose presence she feels with the divination of love. Seeing Sharpless standing by a foreign lady, and Suzuki in tears, the truth suddenly bursts upon her. “Is he alive ?” she asks, and when Suzuki answers “yes,” she knows that he has forsaken her.
Turned to stone, she listens to Kate’s humble apologies and to her offer to take the child. By a supreme effort she controls herself. “I will give up my child to him only; let him come and take him; I shall be ready in half an hour,” she answers brokenly.
When Sharpless and Kate have left her, Butterfly sends Suzuki into another room with the child. Then, seizing her father’s long knife, she takes her white veil, throwing it over the folding screen. Kissing the blade, she reads its inscription, “Honorably he dies who no longer lives in honor,” and raises it to her throat. At this moment the door opens, and her child runs up to his mother with outstretched arms. Snatching him to her bosom, she devours him with kisses, then sends him into the garden. Seizing the knife once more, Butterfly disappears behind the screen, and shortly afterward the knife is heard to fall.
When Pinkerton’s call, “Butterfly” is heard, she emerges once more from the background and drags herself to the door; but there her strength fails her and she sinks dead to the ground.