Madama Butterfly is about a geisha which can be presumed as prostitution with a little difference since there is a wedding ceremony etc. On one side, there is a collision of two different culture and on the other side, collision of extreme love and supineness.
In order to understand the opera, we first understand the Butterfly’s fragility. Otherwise, our rationalism and pride won’t let us understand her situation. She seems to be believe that Pinkerton will be back, however, I think she knows the truth in a deep level due to the fact that she never lets people to talk with herself about the reality. The sentence of ‘’He won’t be back.’’ Cannot be told to her and when American consul asks what she’d be doing if Pinkerton was to never return, she sings ‘’Che Tua Madre’’. In this aria, she considers the situation however she knew that Mr.Shapless didn’t bring her any good new, that’s why she didn’t let him talk. And after ‘’Che Tua Madre’’ he couldn’t tell her, Cho Cho San didn’t hear the words she’s been avoiding.
Butterfly has changed her religion for her husband, and in his absence she blame her own gods, and she tries to become more and more American. When the consul arrives, she insists him to wear his shoes and offer him American cigarettes because her house is an American house now. She is alienated to her own culture because she subconciously search for an answer, wants to discover a reason to keep him away and tries to become a person that Pinkerton loves. The music brings that perfectly. Whenever she returns her own tradition (like final harakiri scene), we hear the Japonese harmonies.
While staging the Madama Butterfly, since there is a lot of available material to use, dancers with fan, sky lanters etc. are used a lot, however, I would not prefer that much material to be used on the stage. If I were staging Madama Butterfly nowadays, I would not use dancers on the backstage for example since we already familiar with Japanese culture. These are rout out the audience. On the contrary, we must feel close ourselves to her. I would use Japanese structure in the house but keep everything very simple and make audience to focus on music. The puppet child only make us to watch the string pullers.
If we come to end, we see a totally different Butterfly, the only moment that we see her realising the truth. She’s become herself and returns who she really is. That fragile Butterfly is now so strong in a way. Now we know that she’s pretending to be someone else to press her doubts and fear. Realising the truth she gets rid of her fake identity. Her aim is not to make Pinkerton regret his behaviour, killing Butterfly in front of Pinkerton will be wrong I think, because she is doing it for herself only and we understand that she has no choice because she’s never change actually. Butterfly is who she is.