Life with Dishonour or Death with Dignity?

See what they're saying about
Madama Butterfly

Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 8 pm
Tuesday, April 28 at 7 pm
Friday, May 1 at 8 pm

Sung in Italian with projected English translations

Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Directed by Ann Hodges
Conducted by Daniel Lipton

Heart wrenching and beautifully exotic, Madama Butterfly will bring you to tears and sear your memory with its unforgettable melodies.

Puccini at his best!

An intensely moving and a haunting portrayal of the dangers of misguided love. The inspiration for other works including the stage play M. Butterfly and the musical Miss Saigon.

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Enhancing Your Opera Experience

Japanese Arts Demonstrations at Madama Butterfly

 The Manitoba Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (MJCCC) will be presenting demonstrations of the arts of calligraphy, origami, and flower arranging at Madama Butterfly.

There will also be a display of kimonos. Demonstrations will occur on the Piano Nobile before curtain and during intermission at all three performances. 

Look for MJCCC items at the Boutique as well!    

Wine Sampling and Education by Kenaston Wine Market

Manitoba Opera is very pleased to offer our patrons a unique opportunity to sample selections from our curent Opera Lovers' Wine Case promotion at all three Madama Butterfly performances.

Look for the Kenaston Wine Market booth on the Piano Nobile before curtain and during intermission. 

The Story

An American naval officer, B.F. Pinkerton, arranges through a marriage broker to take a 15-year-old bride, Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly). Although the marriage enables her to leave the life of a geisha, Butterfly's family disowns her for renouncing her ancestral religion. In love with the dashing Pinkerton, she ignores warnings about his motives and he soon returns to the United States. Butterfly waits three long years for him to return. When he does, it is to claim the one thing she loves more than life itself.

Musical Highlights
  • Puccini's favourite opera
  • Authentic Japanese folk melodies are woven throughout the melodic score, yet Butterfly remains a full-throated, heart-on-the-sleeve Italian opera
  • Expertly contrasts Eastern and Western motifs to portray the jarring collision of two cultures
  • Pinkerton's American creed "Dovunque al mondo"
  • Butterfly's entrance "Quanto cielo...Ancora un passo or via"
  • The love duet "Viene la serà"
  • Butterfly's aria "Un bel di" one of the most famous arias in the operatic repertoire
  • Pinkerton's aria "Addio fiorito asil"
  • Butterfly's death aria "Con onor muore"
  • The exquisite "Humming Chorus"
About the Composer- Giacomo Puccini

Born in 1858 in Lucca, Italy, Giacomo Puccini came from a long line of professional musicians. When his father, organist and choirmaster of the San Martino church there, died, Giacomo was only five years old. The post as organist and choirmaster was held, through an uncle, to ensure Puccini could assume the post when he was old enough in order to maintain the line of Puccini musicians presiding there, which went back to Giacomo Puccini, having received that appointment in 1739. Young Puccini began his career as organist there when he was 14.

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About the Librettists – Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica

Puccini's partnership with the playwright/librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa was one of the most successful in the whole history of Italian opera -- a meeting of great artistic minds akin to Verdi's association with Boito and Bellini's with Romani. Although Illica and Giacosa are best remembered for their work with Puccini, each had an active career of his own.

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Butterfly Backgrounder

Prepared by Robert Vineberg

Madama Butterfly premiered on February 17, 1904 at La Scala in Milan. The opera, based on a short story by John Luther Long in 1898, was set in Nagasaki in the early 1890s.

What was an American Naval Officer Doing in Japan anyway?

In the mid-nineteenth century, Japan was largely a closed society, resistant to diplomatic and commercial contact with foreigners. Attempts by the United States and other nations to establish formal relations with Japan were repeatedly rebuffed. In response to this situation, in March 1852, U.S. president Millard Fillmore ordered Matthew C. Perry to command the U.S. Navy's East India Squadron and to establish diplomatic relations with Japan. Perry initially delivered President Fillmore's request for a treaty to a representative of the Japanese emperor in July 1853.

Perry returned with a larger force in 1854, arriving in Edo (Tokyo) Bay, and obtained the signature of Japanese authorities to the Treaty of Kanagawa on 31, March 1854. As a result of this treaty of permanent friendship, a U.S. consul was stationed at Shimoda, U.S. vessels were allowed access to the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to obtain provisions, and shipwrecked seamen from U.S. vessels were to receive the assistance of Japanese authorities.This treaty led to significant commercial trade between the United States and Japan, contributed to opening Japan to other Western nations, and ultimately resulted in the modernization of the Japanese state.  (From the U.S. Navy Department Library, Commodore Matthew C. Perry and the Opening of Japan, , retrieved on December 7, 2008)


What was the Japanese reaction to the arrival of foreigners with much more modern technology?

The leadership of Japan had long tried to close it off from the world. The last Shoguns tried to continue this but other, mostly young supporters of the Emperor, felt that Japan could learn from the West and is so doing become its equal. This resulted in the Meiji Restoration or Revolution.


What exactly was the Meiji Restoration?

The term refers to both the events of 1868 that led to the "restoration" of power to the emperor and the entire period of revolutionary changes that coincided with the emperor's reign (1868–1912). The Tokugawa family had controlled the shogunate, from 1603 to 1867. The Shogun was the title of the feudal military administrator from the 12th to the 19th century in Japan. However, by the mid-19th century, weakened by debt and internal division, the Tokugawa shogunate had declined, and much internal opposition had already manifested itself. However, the intrusion of Western powers, particularly the Americans, under Commodore Matthew C. Perry, precipitated further discontent. Under pressure, the Tokugawa shogunate submitted (1854) to foreign demands and signed treaties that ended Japan's isolation.

The powerful Choshu and Satsuma domains of W Japan tried to resist the foreigners on their own and were defeated (1863). These domains, excluded from the Tokugawa governing councils because of their status as tozama, or great feudal barons, then demanded creation of a new government loyal to the emperor to expel the foreigners. In January 1868, samurai from these domains, with the support of anti-Tokugawa court nobles, succeeded in a palace coup that abolished the shogunate and "returned" power to the emperor. The court was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, where a centralized administration was created.

The new Meiji government moved quickly to discard the feudal system and launch a series of reforms that profoundly changed Japanese society. These reform programs—administrative, economic, social, legal, educational, and military—were carried out under the slogan "fukoku Kyohei" (enrich the country and strengthen the military). The government adopted many policies designed to create a modern economy and society. Students were sent to Europe and the United States to study modern science and technology, while foreign experts were hired to help establish factories and educational institutions. In 1889 the Meiji Constitution was adopted. In the late Meiji years, Japan won the Sino–Japanese war in 1895, and defeated Russia in 1905, and, in doing so, staked its claim to being a world power. (From the Free Dictionary - retrieved on December 7, 2008)


Why would Puccini compose an opera about Japan?

The Victorian period was a time when men of leisure embarked on adventurous escapades around the world. Many of these travelers wrote letters, articles, and journals of their travels. All these personal interpretations of what they witnessed combined to create exotic images of distant lands for those remaining at home. It became common to set works of literature in foreign locations. One of the last countries to be opened to the West was Japan. Once Commodore Perry concluded his treaty with Japan in 1854, it became a must-see destination for wealthy and intrepid travelers.

Japan's exotic allure resulted in a vast body of popular literature and fashion. "Japonisme" was a popular trend in late 19th and early 20th century Europe. It involved adapting Japanese silks and prints in European interior design and clothing. Japanese gardens were built in many places in Europe and North America in this period. Puccini was one of the Europeans caught up in the attraction of Japan and the sad and beautiful story of Butterfly, modern in so many ways but totally traditional in her concept of honour and saving face.

Honour, Duty and Shame

The concepts of honour, duty and shame, in the Japanese context, often lead to discussion of hara-kiri (suicide by thrusting a knife or sword into one’s own belly). Hara-kiri was the ultimate method of “saving face.”  Happily, hara-kiri is no longer part of Japanese culture but honour, duty, and shame remain compelling forces in Japanese society.

The Bushido Code (meaning “Way of the Warrior”) evolved from the 11th and 14th centuries in Japan. This code of conduct guided the samurai (aristocratic Japanese warriors).  Its tenets included: loyalty, courage, humility, forbearance, generosity, and self-control. And, above all, samurai had to maintain their dignity and honor, which was considered to be as much their duty as protecting their Shogun.  A samurai, who lost his honour, had only one way to restore it: hara-kiri.  By killing himself in such a painful, but fearless fashion, the samurai was able to eradicate the shame or losing his honour.  

Why does shame have to be avoided at all costs?  In Japan, relationships between people were, and still are, greatly affected by duty and obligation.  In duty-based relationships, what other people believe or think has a more powerful impact on behavior than what the individual believes.  Shame occurs when others hold negative feelings towards someone or when someone feels that he or she failed to live up to his or her own obligations.

In Western culture, guilt can be relieved through a number of methods, including confession or the justice system, but in Japanese culture, shame cannot be removed until a person does what society expects. (Source: Takako McCrann, Shame, Honor, and Duty, Bellevue University:, retrieved on February, 8, 2009).


This is one of the reasons that the Japanese Canadian community pushed so hard to obtain a formal apology from the Government of Canada for the internment, dispossession and displacement of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. When, on September 22, 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney pronounced the Canadian Government's formal apology for the wrongful incarceration, seizure of property and the disenfranchisement of thousands of Canadians of Japanese ancestry, honour was restored to all Canadians of Japanese descent.  (Source: Japanese Canadian National Museum, Timeline: Brief overview of Japanese Canadian history:, retrieved on February, 8, 2009)


What was going on in Winnipeg in when Madama Butterfly premiered?

Winnipeg was in the midst of its greatest period of growth. It grew from 8,000 in 1881 to almost 26,000 in 1891 and then to 42,000 by 1901. But then came a decade of explosive growth that took the population to 128,000 by 1911. 

In 1904, the year of Butterfly’s premiere, the CPR opened its magnificent station on Logan Avenue (now the Aboriginal Centre of Winnipeg) and began construction on the Royal Alexandra Hotel which opened in 1906. The Dominion Theatre and the Manitoba Club both opened their doors in 1904. The City of Winnipeg built three new fire halls, befitting the needs of the burgeoning city (Number 3 on Maple Street, Number 5 on Sherbrook Street and Number 6 on Burrows Avenue). The Province opened the Land Titles Building on Broadway in the same year. Among the commercial buildings completed in 1904, the most prominent was the Union Bank (Royal Bank) Building on Main Street. Construction of the Eaton’s store on Portage Avenue began in 1904 and was completed in 1906. And, the Trappist Monastery in St. Norbert was being built at this time. Now that’s a building boom! (Source: University of Manitoba’s Winnipeg Building Index: retrieved on December 7, 2008.)

As Winston Churchill, who visited Winnipeg in 1901 noted, “Fancy, 20 years ago there were only a few mud huts-tents: and last night a magnificent audience of men in evening dress & ladies half out of it, filled a fine opera house...Winnipeg has a wonderful future before it.”  (Cited in Dilks, David, The Great Dominion, Churchill in Canada, 1900-1954, Thomas Allen, Toronto, 2005, p 27)



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