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#Throwback Thursday: Madame Butterfly

I'm afraid #ThrowbackThursday has been a bit rare in recent weeks, but it's back and focusing on the ballet Madame Butterfly.

The story starts with an American naval officer, Pinkerton, and his friends being entertained in a geisha house. Pinkerton is transfixed by one particularly beautiful girl, Butterfly. Goro the marriage broker tells him that she can be 'bought' as a bride, and Pinkerton agrees to the deal. Butterfly is hardly more than a child and believes this arrangement to be a serious marriage.

Butterfly and Pinkerton are married with great celebration, and Butterfly converts to her husband's faith, christianity, for which she is denounced by a Japanese holy man named Bonze. He declares her an outcast and all the guests depart, leaving Butterfly to her wedding night. At dawn, Pinkerton leaves for his ship and Butterly begins her patient wait for his return.

Three years pass, and Butterfly has given birth to a son. The American Consulate in Nagasaki, Sharpless arrives with a letter from Pinkerton for Butterfly. Despite her blind faith in him, Pinkerton has no plans to return. Goro tries to convince Butterfly to forget about Pinkerton and marry again, introducing her to a new suitor. They think they have convinced her but she chases them from the house and is only stopped by the sound of the cannon announcing the arrival of Pinkerton's ship. Butterfly awaits her husband's return but by morning there is no sign of him.

Meanwhile, Pinkerton farewells his American wife Kate before meeting Sharpless on the hilltop. He is overwhelmed at the thought of seeing Butterfly again and flees. Butterfly hears the commotion and goes outside. Instead of her husband she finds Kate and learns the truth. Butterfly, though grief-stricken, accepts this new situation and entrusts to Kate her last reason for living, her son.

Now alone, Butterfly returns to her culture. In this culture, freedom from her dishonour can be found through ritual suicide. Her father's samurai sword frees her at last.

The idea for the tale of Madame Butterfly came in part from a short story by John Luther Long, Madame Butterfly, published in 1898, which was in turn based on the stories of Madame Chrysantheme, published in 1887 by Pierre Loti. The story was turned into a two-act, then three-act, opera Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. It premiered on 17 February 1904 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. The musical Miss Saigon is based loosely on the same story.

The ballet originated in 1995, when Australian choreographer Stanton Welch created it for the Australian Ballet. The piece is performed to a score by Puccini and arranged by John Lanchbery. It premiered on 24 February 1995 at the State Theatre in Melbourne, Australia. Since then it has been performed by companies all over the world, including the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Here's a clip from the Houston Ballet:

- Selene


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