“A simply stunning performance” – GP


Yoshi Oïda directs Puccini’s heart-rendingly beautiful opera, a Japanese tragedy of cultural collisions and human relations against a backdrop of international power plays. 

Due to illness, the role of Sharpless will be sung by Mats Persson for the performance on Wednesday 4 April.

“A simply stunning performance”Göteborgs-Posten
“Manlio Benzi achieves total fusion between the stage and the orchestra pit”Göteborgs-Tidning/Expressen
“An impeccable ensemble”Dagens nyheter
“Yoshi Oïdas direction is magnificent”Radio P4 Sjuhärad

Puccini’s own favourite work, about two lovers from different continents, is a tragedy of cultural stereotyping and misunderstandings. We are proud to present Madama Butterfly in a new, exciting production by the celebrated Japanese director Yoshi Oïda, a long-time collaborator with the theatre and film director Peter Brook.

In Japan, the American naval officer Pinkerton purchases a young wife for himself – the geisha Madama Butterfly. It is all a game to him, but Cio-Cio San, as the geisha is really called, takes her role as an American wife very seriously. She severs all ties to her own culture and background. When their son is born, Pinkerton's game becomes a matter of life and death.

The passion in the music is heightened by the cruelty of the story. There are few who remain unaffected by Puccini's excruciatingly beautiful composition.

Paris-based Yoshi Oïda’s first production of Madama Butterfly will be an interpretation which brings a solid Japanese sense of authenticity. This will be the first time that the early Brescia version of the piece will be performed in Sweden – a less sentimental version, more acrimonious in its social criticism and with sharper contrasts. 

The experienced Italian conductor Manlio Benzi will be responsible for giving Puccini’s well known score to life once more – for the first time in Gothenburg for eleven years. The demanding title role will be shared by two Korean sopranos, both on the brink of international careers: Jung Nan Yoon and Karah Son.

The team and cast describe the story and the production
”Invisible beauty...” – Director Yoshi Oïda relates his perspective on Madama Butterfly

Japanese cliché or the real thing?

Listen to the panel discussion introducing the new production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Participants were director Yoshi Oïda, conductor Manlio Benzi and soloist Jung Nan Yoon (Butterfly). Our invited guest was Yael Feiler, PhD – expert on post-colonial theory.

Göran Gademan (dramaturgist) chaired the panel, and the discussion was held in English.

    Puccini’s fiasco which became a triumph

    Article by Göran Gademan, dramaturgist at The Göteborg Opera

    Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)

    Following successes with Manon Lescaut, La Bohème and Tosca, there could no longer be any doubt about who was Verdi’s rightful successor on the opera throne: Giacomo Puccini. Which is why it is so odd that Puccini’s next work Madame Butterfly turned out to be one of the biggest fiascos in the history of opera at La Scala in 1904. But the opera’s poor reception may have been prearranged and due largely to the demonstrations organised by Puccini’s opponents. Four years previously, he had been in London and watched a performance of David Belasco’s American melodrama Madame Butterfly, about an American soldier who marries a Japanese woman but later abandons her. The melodrama genre was born as a form of popular drama in Paris and had since spread to the US, where it spawned the silent movie after the turn of the century. Belasco was one of the most popular writers, and although Puccini didn’t understand a word of English, he was gripped. He planned a libretto together with Illica that would also be based on John Luther Long’s short story, the inspiration for Belasco’s play. Initially the plan was to create an opera in two acts, with the first act set in the US and the second in Japan. He eventually decided to set the first act in Japan as well, with Butterfly and Pinkerton’s marriage ceremony and wedding night. A scene at the US consulate in Nagasaki was also cut. This meant that the roles of Pinkerton and consul Sharpless shrank considerably, while Butterfly’s lead role became huge. 

    Following the fiasco with the phenomenal Rosina Storchio in the lead role, the irate Puccini immediately withdrew Madame Butterfly for revision.

    Compared to Tosca, in Madame Butterfly Puccini shows a return to the intimate depiction of everyday life that was a theme throughout La Bohème. However, his level of technical skill is now higher and more developed: the melodics flow flawlessly, the harmonies are more complex and the leitmotif is used with a deeper meaning as the drama progresses. Puccini learned about Japanese customs and even studied the timbre of the Japanese female voice with the help of an actress who was touring Europe at the time. He managed to weave all of this organically into his music with authentic Japanese melodies, pentatonic scales and a degree of exoticism in the orchestration. The Japanese elements are placed in stark contrast to the American, partly through the quote from The Star-spangled Banner (“America forever”) in Pinkerton’s introductory scene. Puccini came to love his Butterfly like no other heroine, and the mental torture he subjects her to in the opera’s lengthy final act is almost unbearable, from the aria “Un bel dì vedremo” (One beautiful day), as she waits for Pinkerton’s return, to the final suicide aria and farewell to her child, “Tu? Tu? Piccolo iddio?” (You my dearest?). Her dead father’s theme floats eerily as she lifts the dagger one final time, but almost more distressing is Sharpless’ attempt to tell her the truth earlier on in the act. Her enthusiasm and inability to grasp the truth mean his warning goes unheeded. 

    Poster from the premiere at La Scala in 1904
    Leopoldo Metlicovitz

    Following the fiasco with the phenomenal Rosina Storchio in the lead role, the irate Puccini immediately withdrew Madame Butterfly for revision. He reluctantly agreed to divide the second act into two, adding an intermezzo for Butterfly’s nightly vigil, waiting for Pinkerton’s return. The first act of the original version is more sprawling, featuring a throng of irrelevant minor characters, but it is also more caustic and more exciting in its social criticism. One reason for the original fiasco could also be the characterisation of Pinkerton, which probably sparked some confusion. People were after all fairly used to the idea of Puccini’s tenor roles being the characters that fell in love with the heroine, but here he makes an interesting exception as the tenor becomes the one who destroys her. Usually the part that subjects her to torture, mental or physical, is taken by the baritone and indirectly, the friendly Sharpless does this. But as the audience, you are consumed with hatred for Pinkerton, which is the most likely explanation for Puccini’s decision to add the aria “Addio fiorato asil” (Farewell flowery refuge) to the final act of his second version. 

    Puccini and his librettists Giacosa and Illica completed the revision within a week, and the new première took place in Brescia, just three months after the disaster at La Scala. It was a huge success, with 32 curtain calls and seven encores, which should confirm that the booing in Milan was prearranged. But Puccini was not satisfied and went on to produce another version for Paris in 1907. This is the version that is always performed around the world today. At the Göteborg Opera we have decided to return to Puccini’s “middle version” for Brescia. Our Artistic Director for Opera/Drama, Stephen Langridge, directed this version a few years ago for the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo, and was keen for it to be performed it here. As director he chose Yoshi Oida, who was born in Japan in 1933. Yoshi Oida began his career working as an actor in his homeland, moving to Paris in 1968 to work as a choreographer and movement assistant on many of director Peter Brook’s world-famous productions. Oida then began directing spoken plays as well as operas, including Nabucco and Don Giovanni

    Oida has an unswerving skill for differentiating between what is authentically Japanese and what is simply a cliché.
    Yoshi Oida
    Mamoru Sakamoto

    As a teenager, Oida observed the American soldiers and the Western lifestyle, which at the time had a considerable influence in Japan. In Tom Schenk’s set design and Thibault Vancraenenbroeck’s costume design we will see how westerners form their image of what is Japanese through the characters first building a set on stage. Oida has an unswerving skill for differentiating between what is authentically Japanese and what is simply a cliché. His many years in Paris also enabled him to piece together how the typical Western image of all things Japanese has come about. Puccini’s opera is also in itself such a creation. For Pinkerton, Butterfly becomes the phantasm of the ideal Japanese woman, but also conversely, for her, he becomes a fantasy of the American officer. According to Oida, for Butterfly it is not just about love, but also an attraction to the American culture and breaking with traditions.  The production is set in the 1920s, although not rigidly. This was a period in Japan when several American elements came to be embedded in Japanese culture. It is the decade before Oida’s birth, and several images and portraits from his childhood have served as sources of inspiration for the set design and costumes. 

    The truly genuine Japanese element in the production is Butterfly herself, whom Oida requested should have an East Asian appearance. Butterfly is played alternately by Jung Nan Yoon and Karah Son, both South Koreans living and working in Europe and enjoying international careers. Their Pinkerton will be played by a tenor from Argentina, living in Germany: Marcelo Puente, who will also be an exciting new talent for the Gothenburg audience. Conducted by the Italian maestro Manlio Benzi


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