Madame Butterfly

Madame Butterfly Study Guide

Madame Butterfly is a three-act opera by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini based on the short story of the same name penned in 1898 by John Luther Long. The short story was inspired by stories that Long's sister, Jennie Correll, told him about an actual romance between a U.S. Naval officer and a young Japanese girl. A secondary basis for the opera was an autobiographical novel, Madame Chrysantheme, written by Pierre Loti in 1904. After attending the London premiere of David Belasco's one-act play Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan in 1900, Puccini was inspired to write his own version of the tale.

The original two-act version of the opera premiered on February 17th, 1904, at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy. Although it was cast with notable, popular performers, the opera was met with a great deal of derision, partly due to the fact that Puccini had not completed writing the opera on schedule and rehearsal time was condensed. Puccini undertook a substantial rewrite, turning the opera into a three-act production, and when it premiered in Brescia on May 28th, 1904, it received a much more favorable critical response.

Buoyed by this reaction, Puccini took the opera to Washington D.C. and then to New York where it was performed by Henry Savage's New English Opera Company. Puccini continued to revise the opera and the third, fourth and fifth versions were all performed to great acclaim. The fifth version is the version that is performed today, and is still regularly programmed at opera houses around the world.