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NEW YORK (AP) — You’d never guess from watching her, but Kristine Opolais says that while she’s singing her heart out as Madame Butterfly she asks herself: “Oh, why, for what, all this suffering?” And when it’s over, she thinks: “I’m finished with this role, because it takes everything.”

“But then, the reaction of the audience, it all comes back to me,” she added. “Next morning I have a reason, because I’m happy.”

The Latvian soprano stars in the Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcast on Saturday of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” the tragic story of a 15-year-old geisha in love with an American sailor who abandons her, leaving her with a child and the vain hope that he will return. Instead, he shows up at the end with an American wife to take their son away.

What makes Butterfly so rewarding to portray, Opolais said in an interview, is that she’s “a complete woman.”

“She’s not only a beautiful Japanese girl,” Opolais said. “We must show why Pinkerton fell in love with her. Everything is in her. She’s brilliant, interesting, open-minded, with humor. And a mother. She’s everything that men can only dream of.”

Vocally, as well, the role has everything, from light, intimate phrases to lyric outpourings such as the famous aria “Un bel di,” to heavy dramatic moments where her voice must soar over the orchestra.

For Opolais, the final scene when all of Butterfly’s illusions are shattered is both the most painful and the satisfying. “The character is opened finally, like a flower, showing all the soul,” she said. “This is what makes the audience cry and love you. I feel completely my heart is like in an X-ray, very naked, without skin.”


In the Met’s visually arresting production, directed by the late Anthony Minghella, Butterfly’s little boy is portrayed by a puppet rather than the usual child actor. Operated by three puppeteers from the Blind Summit Theatre, the puppet interacts with Butterfly in a strikingly realistic manner. “It is reacting, touching me, it’s amazing what they do,” Opolais said. “I think there is always something missing with a real child. The directors usually have them just sitting there, instead of playing a child who loves his mother.”


Puccini was inspired to write “Madame Butterfly” after seeing a play of the same name by American dramatist David Belasco in London in 1900. But the opera’s premiere at Milan’s La Scala in 1904 was a fiasco, with the audience booing, whistling and laughing throughout. After Puccini made some minor changes, it was performed again a few months later in the Italian city of Brescia, where it was enthusiastically received. From that day on it has been one of the composer’s most beloved works, justifying the prediction he made after its initial failure: “Madame Butterfly will remain what it is: the most soulful, expressive opera that I have ever written. And ultimately I will triumph!”


The Met’s HD broadcast of “Madame Butterfly,” also starring tenor Roberto Alagna and conducted by Karel Mark Chichon, will be shown starting at 12:55 p.m. EDT on Saturday. A list of theaters can be found at the Met’s website: Season/In-Cinemas/Theater-Finder/. In the U.S., it will be repeated April 6 at 6:30 p.m. local time.