Madama Butterfly

When Puccini saw a London production of the American playwright David Belasco’s drama about a Japanese geisha he was moved to tears, even though he didn’t understand a word of English. His choice of the theme meant that in the opera Madama Butterfly he had to master new forms of musical expression, as later on was the case of Turandot too. Puccini researched the local customs and music of faraway Japan and had numerous gramophone discs brought from Tokyo to familiarise himself with Japanese folk music. He dedicated great effort to rendering Japanese colour. Madama Butterfly is a masterpiece when it comes to minute depiction of atmosphere and poetry. 

The opera’s premiere on 17 February 1904 at Milan’s La Scala ended with stamping, booing and merciless criticism – it was upbraided for its lengthy scenes, redundant episodes in Act 1, and a general lack of drama. Puccini subsequently revised the opera, dividing it into three Acts and adding the tenor aria “Addio, fiorito asil” (Farewell, flowery refuge), in which the American officer Pinkerton bids farewell to the places where he has experienced beautiful moments of fatal happiness with the fifteen-year-old geisha Cio-Cio-San, alias Butterfly. The work’s new version was first performed on 28 May 1904 in Brescia to great acclaim. Its triumphant journey across the world was launched by the English premiere at Covent Garden in London on 10 July 1905, with Ema Destinnová and Enrico Caruso in the lead roles.

The opera is staged in Italian original version and Czech and English surtitles are used in the performance.

Photo: Pavel Petráněk, Dan Jäger

Duration of the performance: 2 hours and 35 minutes, 1 intermission

Program and cast

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January 1970

Prague National Theatre

The National Theatre today


The historical building of the National Theatre, constructed in 1883, is generally considered the prime stage in the CzechRepublic. It is the flagship of the National Theatre institution, today amounting to five buildings and encompassing four companies. You can see there Opera, Drama and Ballet performances.


Idea of building a stately theatre for the Czech nation


The National Theatre is the embodiment of the will of the Czech nation for a national identity and independence. Collections of money among the broad mass of the people facilitated its construction and hence the ceremonial laying of its foundation stone on 16 May 1868 was tantamount a nationwide political manifestation.


The idea of building a stately edifice to serve as a theatre was first mooted in the autumn of 1844 at meetings of patriots in Prague. It began to materialise through a request for “the privilege of constructing, furnishing, maintaining and managing” an independent Czech theatre, which was submitted to the Provincial Committee of the Czech Assembly by František Palacký on 29 January 1845. The privilege was granted in April 1845. Yet it was not until six years later – in April 1851 – that the Society for the Establishment of a Czech National Theatre in Prague (founded in the meantime) made its first public appeal to start collections. A year later the proceeds of the first collections allowed for the purchase of land belonging to a former salt works with the area of less than 28 acres, which predetermined the magnificent location of the theatre on the bank of the river Vltava facing the panorama of Prague Castle, yet at the same time the cramped area and trapezoidal shape posed challenging problems for the building’s designers.

By car

To the centre (OldTown), approach on Masarykovo nábřeží (Masaryk embankment) in the direction from the Dancing House, at the crossroads in front of the National Theatre turn right to Divadelní street and then right again to Ostrovní street to the National Theatre car park. Parking costs 50 CZK/h.


By tram

By daytime trams Nos. 6, 9, 18 and 22 and night trams Nos. 53, 57, 58, 59 to the stop “Národní divadlo” – in front of the NT historical building; by daytime tram No. 17 to the stop “Národní divadlo”.


By metro

To the station “Můstek”, line B (yellow), and then by foot on Národní street; or to the station “Karlovo náměstí” and then two stops by tram No. 6, 18 or 22 to the stop “Národní divadlo”. To the station “Staroměstská”, line A (green), and then two stops by tram No. 17 to the stop “Národní divadlo”. 

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