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Pinkerton, Benjamin Franklin


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(Puccini: Madama Butterfly). Ten. Lieutenant in the US Navy. His ship has docked at Nagasaki and he has arranged through a marriage broker to marry a 15‐year‐old Geisha, Cio‐Cio‐San, known to everyone as Butterfly. His friend Sharpless, the US Consul in Nagasaki, strongly disapproves of this marriage. Although he has bought a house for his bride, Pinkerton regards her as a temporary amusement whereas Sharpless knows how Butterfly has fallen in love with her prospective husband. Butterfly and her family arrive for the wedding and she tells Pinkerton how she has forsaken her own religion so that they can have a real Christian wedding. This has alienated her relatives who are making a great fuss. Pinkerton orders them to leave and he and Butterfly are united in a passionate love duet as they retire for the night. Three years later, Butterfly awaits Pinkerton's return—he has gone to America, promising her he will return ‘when the robins nest)’. He does not know that Butterfly has borne his son. He writes her a letter to say that he now has an American wife and he sends this to Sharpless, asking him to explain the situation to Butterfly before Pinkerton arrives in Nagasaki in his ship, the Abraham Lincoln. Pinkerton arrives at the house with Sharpless and is greeted by Butterfly's maid, Suzuki, who soon learns the truth and sees Kate, Pinkerton's wife, waiting in the garden. At last Pinkerton, seeing how the house has been made ready to welcome him, realizes the distress he has caused. Unable to face Butterfly, he runs from the house, once again leaving Sharpless to do the explaining—Pinkerton wants to take his son back to America to be raised there by him and Kate. He receives, through Sharpless, a message from Butterfly—he can have his son, but he must come in person to collect him. He arrives at the house just after Butterfly has stabbed herself with her father's ceremonial sword and she dies as he enters to claim his child. Aria: Addio, fiorito asil (‘Farewell, flowery refuge’); duet (with Butterfly): Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malía (‘Dear child, your eyes full of witchery’).

Pinkerton is not the most likeable of men—he is quite happy to marry the young Cio‐Cio‐San, with no intention of taking his wedding vows seriously, boasting to Sharpless even before the wedding has taken place that he will probably marry an American wife when he returns to the USA. He gives no thought to the damage this might do to Butterfly, and it is only when he returns three years later and learns that Butterfly gave birth to their son after he left her, that the tragedy of the situation dawns on him. Even then his primary concern is to take his son back to America, regardless of the cost to Butterfly—and indeed it costs her her life. Pinkerton sings in duet with Butterfly and with Sharpless and in many ensembles, but has no major solo aria. The short aria he sings in the second act was added by Puccini after the première to pacify the tenor who resented having no big solo. Nevertheless, the role has attracted many great Italianate tenors, including Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Richard Tucker, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Carlo Bergonzi, Giuseppe di Stefano, Nicolai Gedda, Jussi Björling, Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and Jerry Hadley. Created (1904) by Giovanni Zenatello.

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Subjects: Opera.


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