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Opera Daily 🎶 — Madame Butterfly, The Flower Duet
A guest post by Heather Johnson
This issue of Opera Daily is written by mezzo-soprano and guest author Heather Johnson. If you’d like to hear and read more from Heather, you can find our interview with her here as well as her Rossini posts here and here.
“The music of this opera (Madama Butterfly) was dictated to me from God. I was merely the instrument in getting it on paper and communicating it to the public.”
Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly is among his most famous and most loved. We often think of Cio-Cio-San’s aria “Un bel dì vedremo” or Pinkerton’s “Addio fiorito asil,” but today we are focusing on the tender and joyful Act 2 duet “Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio” (often known as The Flower Duet) between Cio-Cio-San and her servant/companion/confidant Suzuki.
It’s not often that there is a focus on the loving, loyal and deep friendship and companionship between Cio-Cio-San and Suzuki, but it is one of great importance as Suzuki is the only true friend and family Cio-Cio-San has. When everyone has deserted Cio-Cio-San in Act 1, Suzuki is steadfast and loyal and stays with her. Because of this, their fates are intertwined. Whatever happens to Cio-Cio-San also happens to Suzuki. As a mezzo-soprano, Suzuki is among the most gratifying roles for me to sing and act.
Throughout the opera, Suzuki, Cio-Cio-San and her son become a family. Suzuki has stood by Butterfly, cared for her, and protected her after Pinkerton left, making it possible for Cio-Cio-San and her son to survive. She has prayed for Cio-Cio-San’s well-being (the opening prayer of Act 2) and the return of Pinkerton. So, when they hear the canon in the harbor and see that it is indeed Pinkerton’s ship, she is as thrilled as Cio-Cio-San, but with a tinge of skepticism.
At this point in the opera, Cio-Cio-San has been waiting patiently for Pinkerton’s return after telling her, “Oh, Butterfly, my little wife, I shall return with the roses, when the earth is full of joy, when the robin makes his nest.” Three years have passed, but unfortunately, no Pinkerton. Cio-Cio-San has refused the wealthy Prince Yamadori's marriage proposal, been warned by Sharpless and the US Consul that he will never return, yet she still believes he will return to her.
At this moment in the opera, there is a canon in the harbor signaling the arrival of a ship. The two women see that it is Pinkerton’s ship. Cio-Cio-San tells Suzuki to collect all the flowers from the garden and shower them throughout the house to make it “all Spring”. They laugh and enjoy this moment. Unfortunately, it will be the last happy moment for both of them. Listen to the beautiful interplay and harmonies the two women sing together in this duet. It’s glorious.
We are listening to the incredible soprano Mirella Freni as Cio-Cio-San and the wonderful mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig as Suzuki in the 1975 movie from Vienna.
📺 Watch and listen here (5 minute listen), Soprano Mirella Freni as Cio-Cio-San, mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig as Suzuki in the 1975 movie of Madame Butterfly, Vienna, directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Here are some other interpretations of The Flower Duet:
WATCH & LISTEN Soprano, Leontyne Price, Mezzo-Soprano, Marilyn Horne, The Flower Duet, from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, 1982
WATCH & LISTEN Soprano, Renata Tebaldi, Mezzo-Soprano, Fiorenza Cossotto, The Flower Duet, from Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Conductor Tullio Serafin, recorded in Rome, 1958
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Thank you for reading and listening,
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