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Valentine’s week: Madama Butterfly and Carmen

Carmen by artist Maureen Radcliffe George
Carmen by artist Maureen Radcliffe George
James George

Valentines is intended to by a month-long celebration. I can remember that from grade school days. First, there was a call for Valentine boxes. Everyone was asked to bring to school an empty shoe box. That sent mothers scrambling to locate them.

Maureen Radcliffe George with completed pair of 'Butterflies'
James George

Valentines is intended to by a month-long celebration. I can remember that from grade school days. First, there was a call for Valentine boxes. Everyone was asked to bring to school an empty shoe box. That sent mothers scrambling to locate them.

Children brought the boxes to school where the art teacher instructed the class how to decorate the boxes with hearts cut from construction paper. You could use any colors that you wanted. The instruction included folding the paper in half and then cutting half of a heart shape. When the paper opened, there was a complete heart. They usually ran out of red and pink, but the boys didn’t mind.

Can anyone remember how we acquired knowledge about the heart and all of the emotion surrounding that?

The boxes were prepared, and you wrote your name on the box. There was a slot on top like a mailbox into which friends would deposit Valentine cards. Another week was devoted to making Valentine cards and printing your friend’s name on the card, something like this: “Be my Valentine,” and your signature.

If you were slow at printing names, that means some friends might be left out. There was something competitive about it because classmates would count their cards to keep score.

Anyway, at one point, Valentine’s Day was without gender bias or preference. But, then something changed. Some girl showed special interest in making certain that a fellow received the card. That person may have added additional words or messages such as “love”.

Could a fellow retrieve his card to reciprocate, or would it be best to pretend that it got lost in the mail?

This week there is an art opening at the Popcorn Gallery where Maureen Radcliffe George will unveil the finished “Butterfly” pair of prints. She has worked on the concept for 20 years or more. She studied various operas, including Carmen for which she made acrylic paintings. From those paintings and other operas, she made monoprints.

The “Butterfly” series is the most elaborate production ever. Madama Butterfly is a sad story, but nonetheless, a love story.

Madama Butterfly (Madame Butterfly) is an opera in three acts (originally two acts) by Giacomo Puccini, with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. The libretto of the opera is based in part on the short story "Madame Butterfly" (1898) by John Luther Long – which in turn was based partially on stories told to Long by his sister Jennie Correll and partially on the semi-autobiographical 1887 French novel Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti.[1][2][3] Long's short story was dramatized by David Belasco as a one-act play, Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan (1900). After premiering in New York, Belasco's play moved to London, where Puccini saw it in the summer of 1900.[4]

The original version of the opera, in two acts, had its premiere on 17 February 1904 at La Scala in Milan. It was very poorly received despite the presence of such notable singers as soprano Rosina Storchio, tenor Giovanni Zenatello and baritone Giuseppe De Luca in the lead roles. This was due in large part to the late completion and inadequate time for rehearsals. Puccini revised the opera, splitting the second act into two acts and making other changes. On May 28, 1904, this version was performed in Brescia and was a huge success.

Between 1915 and 1920, Japan's best-known opera singer Tamaki Miura won international fame for her performances as Cio-Cio San. Her statue, along with that of Puccini, can be found in the Glover Garden in Nagasaki, the city where the opera is set.

Madama Butterfly is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire for companies around the world, ranking 7th in the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide.[5]


Time: 1904.
Place: Nagasaki, Japan.
Act 1
In 1904, a U.S. Naval officer named Pinkerton rents a house on a hill in Nagasaki, Japan, for him and his soon-to-be wife, "Butterfly". Her real name is Ciocio-san, (cio-cio, pronounced "chocho": the Japanese word for "butterfly" ischōchō 蝶蝶). She is a 15-year-old Japanese girl whom he is marrying for convenience, since he intends to leave her once he finds a proper American wife, and since Japanese divorce laws are very lax. The wedding is to take place at the house. Butterfly had been so excited to marry an American that she had earlier secretly converted to Christianity. After the wedding ceremony, her uninvited uncle, a bonze, who has found out about her conversion, comes to the house, curses her and orders all the guests to leave, which they do while renouncing her. Pinkerton and Butterfly sing a love duet and prepare to spend their first night together.

Act 2
Three years later, Butterfly is still waiting for Pinkerton to return, as he had left shortly after their wedding. Her maid Suzuki keeps trying to convince her that he is not coming back, but Butterfly will not listen to her. Goro, the marriage broker who arranged her marriage, keeps trying to marry her off again, but she won't listen to him either. The American Consul, Sharpless, comes to the house with a letter which he has received from Pinkerton which asks him to break some news to Butterfly, that Pinkerton is coming back to Japan, but Sharpless cannot bring himself to finish it because Butterfly becomes very excited to hear that Pinkerton is coming back. Sharpless asks Butterfly what she would do if Pinkerton were not to return. She then reveals that she gave birth to Pinkerton's son after he had left and asks Sharpless to tell him.
From the hill house, Butterfly sees Pinkerton's ship arriving in the harbour. She and Suzuki prepare for his arrival, and then they wait. Suzuki and the child fall asleep, but Butterfly stays up all night waiting for him to arrive.

Act 3
Suzuki wakes up in the morning and Butterfly finally falls asleep. Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive at the house, along with Pinkerton's new American wife, Kate. They have come because Kate has agreed to raise the child. But, as Pinkerton sees how Butterfly has decorated the house for his return, he realizes he has made a huge mistake. He admits that he is a coward and cannot face her, leaving Suzuki, Sharpless and Kate to break the news to Butterfly. Agreeing to give up her child if Pinkerton comes himself to see her, she then prays to statues of her ancestral gods, says goodbye to her son, and blindfolds him. She places a small American flag into his hands and goes behind a screen, cutting her throat with her father's hara-kiri knife. Pinkerton rushes in. He is too late.”

See the work.

Collective Ink: Recent Work of Eight Printmakers

February 15 through March 16, Saturdays & Sundays, 12 - 6 p.m.
Opening Reception: Saturday, February 22 , 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Presenter: Glen Echo Park Partnership
Location: Popcorn Gallery
Admission: Free
Contact Phone: 301.634.2222

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