Madame Butterfly: A Machinima Pastiche

by Phoenix, HSM team writer

Madame Butterfly is an opera by Giacomo Puccini, an Italian composer best known for this and his other operas, including La Bohème and Tosca. Madame Butterfly was first presented to an audience at La Scala in Milan in 1904. It was a stunning failure, and closed after one night. Puccini revised his opera, and three months later presented it to the public again. Since that second production, Madame Butterfly has been hailed as one of the greatest operas of our time.

I chose Madame Butterfly as the subject for a machinima because I could use many Home spaces for the settings. I also loved the story of Cho-Cho san. I saw this opera when I was a child, and never forgot the beauty and sorrow of the set designs and story. This machinima is my homage to Puccini for giving the world such a beautifully tragic story.

Madame Butterfly is a story of tragic love, set in Nagasaki, Japan in 1890. Cho-Cho san (whose name means “butterfly” in Japanese) is a fifteen-year-old Japanese girl from a proud but impoverished samurai family, who marries Pinkerton, an American sailor stationed in Japan. While Cho-Cho san marries for love, Pinkerton marries for convenience — a “Japanese wife” who will serve until he returns to the States and weds his “American wife.” When news of the marriage reaches Cho-Cho san’s uncle and guardian, he is incensed and disowns her. Cho-Cho san is left alone with Pinkerton, who ships out to sea soon after the wedding.

It is three years later when he returns. Cho-cho san has had no word or news of him in those years, and the money he left for her support has nearly run out. From her house on the hill she sees his ship return to the harbor, and is joyful that her husband has finally returned. In the opera, Cho-Cho san has borne a child while Pinkerton was away. (In Home, of course, it is impossible to cast a three-year-old child.)

The end of the story is tragically predictable. Pinkerton has arrived in Japan with Kate, his “American wife.” After convincing his new wife to raise his half-Japanese child , Pinkerton arrives to give Cho-Cho san the news. However, after he sees the welcoming decorations she has made, Pinkerton is unable to face Cho-Cho san, and sends his wife and Suzuki (Cho-Cho san’s maid) in to see her instead. Cho-Cho san is devastated. She refuses to give the child to them unless Pinkerton himself faces her and tells her the truth.

Pinkerton finally faces Cho-Cho san and she gives him the child. She then retreats behind a screen and unwraps her father’s hara-kiri knife — the knife with which he had killed himself on the orders of the Emperor. She reads the words inscribed on the blade: “Death with honor is better than life with dishonor.” As Pinkerton, suddenly remorseful, calls to her from outside, she stabs herself and dies.

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