• Musical Highlight: A Musical Marker

A Musical Marker: A Close Look at the Fugue and its Meaning in Madama Butterfly

Madama Butterfly doesn't begin with a traditional overture, but with a brief, bright fugue—a piece in which several instruments play the same melody, each beginning a few bars apart: Track 19. The fugal melody recurs several times.

Late in Act I, we hear it as Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton find themselves alone, after the wedding guests have departed and Suzuki has said her evening prayer, Track 20.

We then here the fugual melody again, in particularly romantic versions, as Pinkerton and Butterfly prepare for their first night together: Track 21. Your students may want to discuss what these moments have in common: Is the melody a kind of musical marker?

The orchestra plays it once more in Act II, as Sharpless arrives at Cio-Cio-San’s home, hoping to read her the letter from Pinkerton: Track 22. Why does Puccini include it at this point? Does this use of the melody change your students’ thinking about its meaning?