• Madama Butterfly Classroom Activities

The activities in this guide address several aspects of Madama Butterfly:

  • The uses of ambiguity, irony, and misinterpretation in the libretto’s dialogue
  • The calculated multiculturalism of Puccini’s score
  • Acquaintance with selections from the opera that have become well known in western culture
  • The production as a unified work of art, involving creative decisions by the artists of the Metropolitan Opera

 

Romantic Misunderstandings:
A Close Look at Communication and Relationships

The relationships at the heart of Madama Butterfly seems to be simple—except that Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San each understand it entirely differently. For Pinkerton, it is a standard “temporary marriage,” a legal fiction common among foreigners in 19th-century Japan. For Cio-Cio-San, it is a lifelong romantic commitment. But they both call it “love.” Although the consequences are rarely fatal, this sort of misunderstanding is common in adolescent romantic relationships—making Madama Butterfly particularly relevant to students’ personal lives.

While never directly addressing students’ own experiences, this activity will encourage them to consider the roles of language and interpretation in interpersonal relationships. They will:

  • Closely read several sections of dialogue from Illica and Giacosa’s Madama Butterfly libretto
  • Interpret the words spoken from several points of view
  • Consider the roles of language, intention, and interpretation in romantic conversation
  • Develop an acquaintance with the psychological underpinnings of Madama Butterfly in advance of The Met: Live in HD transmission

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Crossed Cultures:
A Close Look at Cultural Influences in Music

Puccini famously researched Japanese music while working on Madama Butterfly, crafting some of his melodies and accompaniment in a sort of Italian version of an Asian style. He also included several musical references to the United States, home of his protagonist, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton. In this activity, students will:

  • Listen to musical selections from Madama Butterfly
  • Relate certain of Puccini’s musical choices to character, plot, and the emotional arc of the opera
  • Discuss the interaction of multiple cultures in this decidedly European work
  • Become familiar with motifs in Madama Butterfly in advance of The Met: Live in HD transmission.

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