The Chrysanthemum and the Butterfly: What, if anything, Remains of Pierre Loti in the Madame Butterfly Narrative
AbstractThe story behind the creation of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” remains a contentious subject of debate between musicologists and scholars of French literature. Program notes frequently attribute Puccini’s inspiration solely to John Luther-Long’s short story “Madame Butterfly,” whereas Francophiles will point out that Loti’s novel predates that of Luther-Long by at least a decade and follows a similar story line. Further complicating the issue is the existence of two alternate French versions, elements of which can be detected not just in Puccini’s opera, but in Luther-Long’s short story as well. In the process of crossing both generic and national boundaries, each author added not only their personal biases, but their national sensibilities as well, appropriating, adding to or deleting aspects of Loti’s story to make the final narrative product their own. So in the final product that is Puccini’s opera, what, if anything, remains of Loti’s original novel, and how did these transnational and trans-generic contact points manage to transform what was essentially one man’s private diary into one of the most frequently performed operas of all time? Such is the subject of this paper.
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