In 1904, Lt. B.F. Pinkerton of the U.S. Navy, stationed in Nagasaki, Japan (which had only recently ended its centuries long closure to the West) engages in a marriage of “convenience” with Cio Cio San, a 15 year old Japanese girl, and rents a house on Higashi Hill (for 999 years) for them to live in. Less than a year later, Pinkerton returns to America, with no plans to ever visit Japan, or see Cio Cio San again.
As CIO CIO SAN opens, it is three years later. Suzuki tells CIO CIO SAN that the money Pinkerton has left them is almost completely gone. Cio Cio San is still convinced that Pinkerton will return, as he promised, “when the robins nest again.” Her famous aria “One Fine Day” (un bel di) expresses this hope.
The American Consul, Sharpless arrives, with a letter from Pinkerton. Before he can read it to Cio Cio San, Goro the marriage broker interrupts. He has been trying to convince Cio Cio San to marry a series of wealthy men, knowing that Pinkerton’s marriage to her was a “sham”. On this occasion Goro brings Yamadori, a wealthy Japanese-American businessman who has returned to Japan to find a new wife. Yamadori tries to convince her that a Japanese husband will be better than an American. Cio Cio San teases him, but will not accept.
Alone with Cio Cio San at last, Sharpless reads her Pinkerton’s letter, which asks Sharpless to prepare her for the worst. Sharpless asks Cio CIo San what she would do if her “husband” never returned. Cio Cio San replies by revealing to him her son, “Sorrow”, whom Pinkerton does not know the existence of. “Sorrow”’s name will be changed to”Joy” when Pinkerton returns. Cio CIo San sings to her son of a dream that the Emperor will meet him and make him a noble. Sharpless is moved, and promises to tell Pinkerton that he is now a father.
While singing a lullaby to calm her son, a cannon is heard from the harbor, and Suzuki and Cio Cio San see Pinkerton’s war-ship, the ‘Abraham Lincoln’ arrive. They strew the house with flowers, and prepare to sit up all night, waiting for Pinkerton to arrive.
During the long night, Cio Cio San drifts in and out of sleep, and dreams, remembering her wedding night with Pinkerton three years earlier. During the love duet, Cio Cio San reveals her fear when she was first told that she was to marry a foreign ‘barbarian’.
The dream ends – and the next morning, Suzuki awakes and sends Cio Cio San to her room to sleep with “Sorrow”. Sharpless arrives with Pinkerton and his American wife, Kate. Suzuki is desperate, knowing this blow will be fatal to Cio Cio San.
Pinkerton, wracked with shame and self-loathing, realizes he cannot face Cio Cio San again, and gives Sharpless money for her, asking him to take care of everything. Sharpless reluctantly agrees and Pinkerton flees – but his wife, Kate remains.
Cio Cio San appears, having heard Pinkerton’s voice – but he is nowhere to be found. Then she sees Kate Pinkerton in the garden and realizes who she must be. Cio Cio San tells Kate that she must be “the happiest woman in the world”, and wishes her peace. Kate asks Cio Cio San to give “Sorrow” to her and Pinkerton, to rear in America. Cio Cio San is non committal, and asks that Pinkerton come himself the next morning for her answer. Kate and Sharpless leave, to return with Pinkerton the next day.
Cio Cio San now sends Suzuki away, and calmly prepares to commit ritual suicide. She prays that her son will understand and forgive her. Suzuki, fearing what Cio Cio San may do, brings “Sorrow” into the room just as Cio Cio San has the sword pressing into her throat. The next morning, when Pinkerton returns with his wife, he finds the house to be completely empty.
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Approximate Runtime (hh:mm)
Vocal & Musical Forces
Cio Cio San (soprano), Suzuki (mezzo), Pinkerton (tenor), Sharpless (baritone), Yamadori (lyric baritone), Kate (Soprano), Goro (Actor), Sorrow (child actor); Piano Quintet: 1 violin, 2 violin, viola, cello, keyboard and percussion, koto, shakuhachi
Sumi Kittleberger as Cio Cio San, Jennifer Herzig as Suzuki, Jeremy Cady as Pinkerton, Noah Hitt as Sorrow, Caroline Kil as Kate Pinkerton's (pinkerton's American wife), Matt Fallesen as as Sharpless, Kotaro Wanatabe as Goro, Benjamin Plache as Yamadori