Madama Butterfly

Los Angeles Opera, 2015; Santa Fe Opera, 2010 and 2018

Credits | Reviews  ⇓


Music by Giacomo Puccini, 1904

Directed by Lee Blakeley, 2010-15

Revival Direction by Matthew Ozawa, 2018

Movement Direction by Nicole Tongue, 2010; Nicola Bowie, 2015-18

Stage Design by Jean-Marc Puissant

Costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel

Lighting by Rick Fisher




Production Manager: Eric J. Moore

Head Painter: Mark Elmund

Props Master: Randy Lutz

Model Assistant: Matt Deeley

Images © courtesy of L.A. Opera, Santa Fe Opera, P. Horpedahl




“What made this “Madama Butterfly” so involving was the totality of the production and the performances.”

The New York Times

We decided to stage the opera in the period of composition, in its intended location, while setting ourselves the task of only using the minimum needed to tell the story. This decision respected the wish of the management of Santa Fe Opera (to commission a production traditional in feel) while giving the staging and performances a decluttered, spare, contemporary feel.


We looked at the 1900 play by David Belasco, which inspired Puccini, and black and white colourised photography of the period. Echoing Cio-Cio-san’s journey, this gave us the tools to focus beyond romantic optimism into a bleaker reality.


Act 1 presents a naive, stylised, simplified vision of Japan. It culminates in a highly romanticised vision of life of the love duet.


At the beginning of the 20th century, Japan underwent a rushed electrification program, tearing through the medieval fabric of its cities and countryside. For Act 2, street lamps dwarf the house, electric cables cut through the now dead garden. This bleakness offsets further Cio-Cio-san’s stubborn optimism and faith, singing Un bel dì leaning against a telegraph pole.


Placing the house on a slow revolve allows us to peer into Butterfly’s hidden world, her wedding kimono pinned on her bedroom wall, mementos from her days with Pinkerton glued to shoji panels.


The New York Times by Anthony Tommasini

What made this “Madama Butterfly” so involving was the totality of the production and the performances. Jean-Marc Puissant’s set was simple and effective: a rotating, rectangular construction of wood beams and Japanese paper walls was all that was needed to depict the house Pinkerton leases for his child bride. In Act II, three years have passed; Butterfly’s life with Suzuki has become dismal, as symbolized by a row of dingy streetlights with electric power lines that now hover over the house.


Opera Today by James Sohre

Set designer Jean-Marc Puissant has devised a wholly effective environment. At curtain rise, only the frame of the house, flanked by selectively placed boughs of pink cherry blossoms. As the music begins, the cast brings on the props, and installs the sliding screens on house, as though Pinkerton may be having it built.

The loving, warm look at the close of Act I gave way in Act II to a worn down, sterile space, the blooming trees having been supplanted by the ugly installation of telephone poles and power lines running from down- to up-stage right.


LA Opus by Erica Miner

Jean-Marc Puissant’s bold set designs were the star of the production. He combined the minimalist lines of Butterfly’s traditional-styled house, framed by a hint of cherry blossoms, and set them against a sky with a large, golden globe symbolizing the “rising sun” that has played such an important role in Japanese mythology and religion (the Japanese Emperor is thought to be the direct descendant of sun goddess). The disappearance of sun and the appearance of the full moon portend Cio-Cio San’s undoing. The glowing background and exquisite appearance of the Shoji screens of Butterfly’s abode in the first act provides a stark and effective contrast to the glaringly contemporary electric lights adjoining her downtrodden house in the second and third acts.


Opera News by Simon Williams

Tradition was deferred to in Act I, as a bough of cherry blossoms gave the stage a touch of conventional poetry, but in Jean-Marc Puissant’s design, the action passed in and around an unassuming small house that became surrounded by telephone lines and dim street lighting during the three years of Pinkerton’s absence. This grim environment provided the setting for a quite riveting, oddly inspiring interpretation of a familiar work.


Santa Fe New Mexican by James M. Keller (2018)

One of the most exquisite productions Santa Fe Opera has mounted during the past decade was of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which opened the 2010 season. Jean-Marc Puissant’s sets, perfectly scaled for our stage, focus on a small, cube-like house that is easily reconfigured through the placement of shoji screens. The house can be rotated to yield different perspectives, an effective device.


The New Mexican by James M. Keller (2010)

The beautiful set (by Jean-Marc Puissant) was cleverly crafted to provide scenic variety within the limited confines of the stage’s mechanical possibilities. Interior spaces were defined by a cube that was reconfigured by repositioning shojis, and the entire apparatus could move about the stage and rotate 360 degrees. The views were lovely, enhanced by a flowering cherry tree outside and simple furnishings within.


LA Opus by Rodney Punt

For the fated home on a Nagasaki hilltop, Jean-Marc Puissant’s scenic design employs a central cube that rotates on its axis and migrates around the stage in varying perspectives, in and out of doors, with Japanese screens revealing and obscuring the interactions. Rick Fisher’s lighting alternates day and night to mirror Cio-Cio-San’s own hope and despair.

The passage of time is hinted at with the sudden appearance of telephone poles in Act II, a reminder of the rapid transformation of a hermetic Japan after the visit of Commodore Perry’s naval flotilla — an intimidating modernization that parallels Cio-Cio-San’s Americanization under the influence of the blustery Pinkerton.

The emphasis overall is on emotional veracity over ritual, naturalness over pictorialism.

Madame Butterfly has been popular for over a century, yet this production reminds us just how relevant it continues to be.


The Denver Post by Kile MacMillan

No aspect of this production is more memorable than designer Jean-Marc Puissant’s breathtaking set, which consists of a near-perfect reconstruction of a traditional Japanese house with sliding paper walls.

The house is silhouetted against the panoramic night sky at the rear of the open stage, and it is easy to imagine it sitting on a bluff overlooking the Nagasaki harbor.

It rotates on a stage turntable, allowing the audience to see the action inside from all angles, and lighting designer Rick Fisher capitalizes on the structure’s transparency with an array of striking effects.


Opera Warhorses by William Burnett

Complementing Blakeley’s conceptualization of the piece were the Puissant sets which began with moonlight and a postcard perfect Japanese house, which in the second act was seen to be a deteriorating structure in a seedier section of Nagasaki. Blakeley, Puissant, Walker, Kaduce, Jovanovich, DeShong add their names to the list of artists who have, in the heights of New Mexico, achieved new successes in this Tuscan composer’s settings of a Californian’s story about a Japan of long ago.