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Song of the Day for February 17: "Madame Butterfly" by Giacomo Puccini

Maria Callas, Maria Meneghini Callas
Carl E. Linde/AP
Soprano Maria Callas, brushes newsmen aside as she arrives in Dallas, Texas, where she will appear in the opera "Medea", Nov. 18, 1959. The temperamental star interrupted her engagement in Dallas to appear in Italy at a hearing of a separation suit brought by her husband, Italian industrialist Giovanni Meneghini. (AP Photo/Carl E. Linde)

“Madam Butterfly” might be one of the most recognizable and beloved operas, but it was a flop when it opened in Milan, Italy, on February 17, 1904. The audience hissed, booed and walked away from the two-act opera.

Giacomo Puccini, who wrote the opera, was no newcomer to bad reviews. “La Bohemme,” in 1896 received mixed reviews. In 1900, there was nothing mixed about “Tosca”. The critics hated it.

Puccini shut down Madame Butterfly after opening night and started reworking it. He cut down the 90-minute second act, and created a third, along with other tweaks.

Four months later, he re-opened the opera in Brescia to an adoring crowd. Puccini took 10 curtain calls after it ended. It became a huge international success, reaching New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1907.

Puccini got the idea for the opera after watching a one-act play, called “Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan,” in London. The play was based on a short story, called “Madame Butterfly,” and a semi-autobiographical French novel “Madame Chrysantheme.”

The story for Madame Butterfly takes place in Japan, where a U.S. sailor, B.F. Pinkerton, marries and then leaves a Japanese geisha, Cio-Cio San, known as Madame Butterfly. He returns to Japan with an American wife who want to take Pinkerton and Cio-Cio San’s son. It doesn’t end well for Madame Butterfly. She kills herself with the same knife her father used to commit suicide.

Maria Callas, though she was Italian, is the most famous Madame Butterfly and sings our Song of the Day. She was one of the great divas of the 20th century. She recorded the opera in 1955.