This activity requires no preparation other than attendance at the Live in HD transmission of Madama Butterfly.
- To review students’ understanding of Madama Butterfly
- To encourage students to develop and express their own opinions about the Live in HD performance
- To create a safe space for students to discuss the opera’s tragic ending
COMMON CORE STANDARDS
Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the task.
Students will enjoy starting the class with an open discussion of the Met performance. What did they like? What didn’t they? Did anything surprise them? What would they like to see or hear again? What would they have done differently? The discussion offers an opportunity to apply the notes on students’ My Highs & Lows sheet, as well as their thoughts about the visual design of the Met production—in short, to see themselves as Madama Butterfly experts.
Asking for Help: Could Cio-Cio-San's Crisis Have Been Averted?
Students may feel the need to discuss the opera’s shocking ending and to voice their emotional responses to viewing Cio-Cio-San’s suicide. Over the course of the opera, viewers are drawn more and more closely into Cio-Cio-San’s world, as her hopes gradually narrow and her future disappears. Her sweet optimism and grace under tragedy render her suicide all the more affecting, a fact acknowledged by director Anthony Minghella, who said of his approach to bringing the opera to the stage that, “It’s no good unless it breaks your heart.”
It may be helpful for students to consider the various causes, both personal and cultural, that contributed to Cio-Cio-San’s suicide, and how her circumstances might have been improved by different kinds of help and support. Some of the questions your students might want to consider are:
- What would Cio-Cio-San’s life have been like if she had not been disowned by her family? How might they have helped her?
- Would it have been different or better if Pinkerton had not waited three years to return to Nagasaki?
- Is there anything that Sharpless could have done to help Cio-Cio-San?
- Was giving up her son to Pinkerton and his American wife the right decision? Do you think his life in America will be better than his life with a loving mother?
- Could Suzuki have done anything differently to help Cio-Cio-San?
- Do you think that Cio-Cio-San’s young age played a role in her response to Pinkerton and/or her reaction to losing him?
As a culminating activity, students can apply their observations about Cio-Cio-San and her plight in an interactive game incorporating modern-day resources. Divide the class into pairs of students and have them imagine that Cio-Cio-San is telephoning a crisis hotline. (Students may imagine that Cio-Cio-San is calling just prior to the final moments of the opera, or alternatively pick an earlier moment from the opera when she is facing a crucial decision.) One student will play the role of Cio-Cio-San, explaining her desires and emotions, and the other student will work with Cio-Cio-San, attempting to talk her down from her crisis and bring about a more positive outcome. After interacting in this vein for several minutes, students should switch roles.
By discussing Cio-Cio-San’s plight and its causes, students can engage with Madama Butterfly and the issues it raises, practice flexible, critical thinking, sharpen their skills of persuasion and logical argument, and practice empathy and positive emotional modeling.