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Madame Butterfly illustrated by Jennifer Farley

Madame Butterfly Poster

Madame Butterfly illustrated by Jennifer Farley

I went to see Madame Butterfly at the Bord Gais Theatre in Dublin last week. I’ve seen the opera three times now (in different productions and places) and still can’t get enough of it. You would need a heart of stone not to be moved by the story and the music. The version I saw last week was by Opera North and was so beautiful with wonderful performances and a lovely, clever yet simple set. This illustration was part of my solo Pocketful of Rainbows exhibition.

If you’re not familiar with the story, here it is in a tiny nutshell:
In 1904, a U.S. Naval officer, Pinkerton, rents a house on a hill in Nagasaki, Japan. He is marrying a 15 year old Japanese girl called Cio-Cio San, (Cio-Cio, pronounced “Chocho”, is Japanese for Butterfly). Butterfly is ecstatic about her marriage to the American and has secretly converted from Shinto to Christianity. The wedding takes place in the house and Pinkerton and Butterfly spend their first night together.

Three years later, Butterfly is waiting for Pinkerton to return to Nagasaki. He left very shortly after their wedding and Butterfly is convinced he will return. Her maid Suzuki keeps insists he is not coming back, but she will not listen to her. (She sings the wonderful “Un Bel Di” – One Fine Day) The American Consul, Sharpless, comes to the house with a letter which he has received from Pinkerton in which he is asked to break some news to Butterfly that he is coming back to Japan, but he cannot bring himself to finish it, because Butterfly becomes very excited to hear that Pinkerton is coming back. Sharpless asks Butterfly what she would do if Pinkerton were not to return. She then reveals that she gave birth to Pinkerton’s son after he had left and asks Sharpless to tell him.

From the hill house, Butterfly sees Pinkerton’s ship arriving in the harbor. She and Suzuki prepare for his arrival, and then they wait. Suzuki and the child fall asleep, but Butterfly stays up all night waiting for him to arrive. (This scene is so beautiful and features one of my all-time pieces of music “The Humming Chorus“.)

Suzuki wakes up in the morning and Butterfly finally falls asleep. Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive at the house, along with Pinkerton’s new American wife, Kate. They have come because Kate has agreed to raise the child. But, as Pinkerton sees how Butterfly has decorated the house for his return, he realizes he has made a huge mistake. He admits that he is a coward and cannot face her, leaving Suzuki, Sharpless and Kate to break the news to Butterfly. Agreeing to give up her child if Pinkerton comes himself to see her, she then prays to statues of her ancestral gods, says goodbye to her son, and blindfolds him. She places a small American flag into his hands and goes behind a screen, cutting her throat with her father’s hara-kiri knife. Pinkerton rushes in. He is too late.

Very dramatic and very emotional, Madam Butterfly is a feast for the eyes and the ears. This is my illustrated homage.