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San Francisco Opera presents 'Madama Butterfly'

The final production in San Francisco Opera's Summer Season is Puccini’s heartbreakingly beautiful love story, Madama Butterfly - which opens at the War Memorial Opera House this evening.

Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio-San
Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The sixth most frequently performed opera worldwide (Source:, Madama Butterfly has a somewhat complicated, but fascinating, history. The Italian libretto, by Luigi Illica and Guiseppe Giacosa, was partly based on the short story, Madame Butterfly, written by John Luther Long in 1898. Long’s story evolved partly from some stories told to him by his sister, and partly from a French novel, Madame Chrysanthème, written by Pierre Loti in 1887. This novel was then dramatized as a one-act play - Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan - by San Francisco-born theatrical producer and playwright, David Belasco, in 1900, the year in which Puccini attended a performance of the play in London.

Puccini’s opera premiered at La Scala in Milan in February1904, where it was most unenthusiastically received. Puccini made substantial revisions to it, and a second version of Madama Butterfly was performed in Brescia in May of the same year, on that occasion to great acclaim. Puccini, however, made more revisions to his work - there were five in total - the fifth making its first appearance in 1907. This became known as the ‘standard version’ and is the one most often performed today. (Source: Wikipedia)

San Francisco Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly stars soprano Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio-San, and tenor Brian Jagde as Lieutenant Pinkerton. Both graduates of the Merola Opera Program and Adler Fellowship, Miss Racette and Mr Jagde appeared together in the Company’s production of Puccini’s Tosca in the Fall of 2012,

Butterfly’s maid and confidante, Suzuki, is sung by mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, and baritone Brian Mulligan is the American Consul Sharpless.

Patricia Racette has previously sung the title role of Madama Butterfly with Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Munich’s Bavarian State Opera, Opera Australia and the Metropolitan Opera. Her performance in Madama Butterfly (and in Peter Grimes) for the Metropolitan Opera were seen in HD in movie theaters across the world during this past season, as part of The Met: Live in HD, with Madama Butterfly being one of the most successful broadcasts in the history of the series. Both were subsequently released on DVD. This is Miss Racette’s 24th season with San Francisco Opera, in which she also appears as Julie LaVerne in the Company’s current production of Show Boat.

Brian Jagde will again be seen in the Company's production of Tosca in October this year, to reprise his role of Cavaradossi, and in 2015, he makes his debut as Pinkerton at The Royal Opera, Covent Garden.

Production of Madama Butterfly is by Jun Kaneko, and direction is by Leslie Swackhamer. Following its performance in Vancouver, this production, which is new to San Francisco Opera, was described by the Globe and Mail as “A Butterfly that soars in style ... the visual component of this production is so compelling, and so intelligent, that it lifts this opera to a new level”.

Sung in Italian with English supertitles, San Francisco Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly runs at the War Memorial Opera House for eight performances, between June 15 and July 9. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus are led by Music Director Nicola Luisotti, and Resident Conductor Guiseppe Finzi will conduct the final two performances.

For more information about the production and tickets, please visit the San Francisco Opera website.

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