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Side view of theater at dusk with white baffles

Puccini's Triumphant Tragedy

By Craig Smith


Puccini’s Triumphant Tragedy

Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly is one of the most popular operas in the repertory, and it’s easy to see (and hear) why. This poignant tale of a 15-year old geisha, deceived and deserted by her American naval officer husband, contains some of the composer’s most heartfelt music. The couple’s passionate love duet, Butterfly’s deep-hearted aria “Un bel di vedromo,” and the subtly atmospheric “Humming Chorus” are three highlights from the dramatic score.

Madame Butterfly holds a special place in the history and heart of Santa Fe Opera. The favorite opera of founder John O. Crosby’s mother, Aileen O’Hea Crosby, it opened all three of the company’s theaters in 1957, 1968, and 1998. Crosby was on the podium each time. To date, it has been performed in ten Santa Fe Opera seasons. The late Lee Blakeley’s sparsely beautiful, intimate 2010 production will be revived for the 2018 season, led by conductor John Fiore.

The opera’s story has an interesting history. The original source was an 1887 novel by Pierre Loti, Madame Chrysanthème. That inspired John Luther Long’s 1898 short story Madame Butterfly, which was adapted for the stage in 1900 by playwright, director, and actor David Belasco. Puccini saw the London production that July, fell in love with the fragile, pitiable heroine, and immediately resolved on an operatic version. His librettists were Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, who had worked with him on the earlier La Bohème and Tosca. Unfortunately, the opera’s 1904 premiere was a resounding failure. The audience shrieked and raved throughout, calling the composer down for what they thought were too many musical similarities to La Bohème. Puccini immediately went to work on a revision, and a new three-act version was much more favorably received a few months later. But it was not until 1907 that he settled on a final version of the score.

Powerful yet subtle, ardent and tragic, Santa Fe Opera’ Madame Butterfly is sure to be a memorable experience.