Certainly my favorite opera, Madama Butterfly is set in Nagasaki somewhere between 1890 to 1900. It has several earlier versions, starting with Pierre Loti’s French short story, Madame Chrysantheme, in which Butterfly is little more than a whore…through David Belasco, the prolific dramatist and impresario…and finally to Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, who collaborated with Puccini to create the love story that occupies the first act of the opera and sets up the terrible impact of the tragedy that follows.
Need I say that the older I get, the harder this opera is for me to handle at an emotional level.
Today, with Nagasaki in the air, I’m putting up my “what happens after” to follow-up the opera itself. It’s not pretty, but given the general mindset of first half of the 20th century, I fear it’s probably reasonably realistic.
Butterfly: The Tragedy After the Tragedy
: Two years after Cio Cio San’s suicide, Buttefly’s former maid marries a shopkeeper in Nagasaki and lives out the rest of her life there. She is killed when the second atomic bomb drops on the city on August 9, 1945.
Consul Sharpless: He never quite gets over the disaster with Pinkerton and Butterfly, and blames himself for not seeing the danger signs. After two years more he resigns from the diplomatic corps and returns to America, where he becomes a professor of foreign studies at an East Coast university. He dies in 1940, filled with foreboding over the catastrophe that will befall Japan–a nation he continues to love–if it expands its territorial ambitions in the direction of the United States.
Kate Pinkerton: Stops sleeping with her husband upon their return from Japan. Perpetually polite and a perfect hostess for a US Navy officer, she often drinks heavily and is believed to take lovers when her husband is at sea. She is rarely alone in the same room with him. She is the longest-lived character after the opera ends, and dies in 1963. No one writes down her last words but someone in the room thinks she hears Kate whisper “At last, thank you.”
Lieut. B. F. Pinkerton: Becomes profoundly silent and dark-dispositioned. He volunteers for hazardous anti-U-Boat duty in the North Sea during World War I. He is caught more than once weeping uncontrollably and for no apparent reason. He often leaves the room when his son comes in. He receives a medical discharge from the Navy in 1921 and shoots himself a week afterwards.
“Trouble,” son of Pinkerton and Cio Cio San (Butterfly), is renamed B. F. Pinkerton, Jr. After his family settles on the West Coast he is mocked by schoolmates as “The Jap” and “The Yellow Nigger,” and is expelled from several private schools for savage fighting bordering on bloodlust. He becomes so savage and vicious that he has virtually no friends or associates. He goes to court at his majority and changes his last name to his adoptive mother’s. He comes home and punches his father in the mouth a week before Pinkerton takes his life. Fitting nowhere, drifting from one job to the next, in and out of trouble with the police, the former golden child descends into alcoholism and drug addiction. A week before he is to be interned in Manzanar for his ancestry and visibly Japanese appearance, he commits sepuku with a ritual dagger he bought in a San Diego pawnshop.