Feb 8

Opera Day

Puccini's Madama Butterfly
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Madama Butterfly
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"I am following my destiny."

~ Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly), from the translated libretto of Madama Butterfly

The operatic tragedy Madama Butterfly is based on a short story by American lawyer and writer John Luther Long from the recollections of his sister who had been to Japan with her husband, a Methodist missionary. A recent author claims Long's story is loosely based on the birth-mother of Tomisaburo, the British-Japanese adopted son of Scot Thomas Blake Glover and his Japanese wife. Glover, known as the "Scottish Samurai," also was the inspiration for the character Jamie McFay in the James Clavell novel Gai-Jin.

February 8th is Opera Day, a celebration of drama set to music, popular since the 16th century.  

This tartan commemorates Giacomo Puccini's beautiful and heartbreaking opera Madama Butterfly. The tartan, designed with Japanese inspired geometry, is a tribute to the opera, a doomed love story set in a Japanese village in Nagasaki at the turn of the century.


The tartan acknowledges over 100 years of performances, portraying the tragic and sorrowful tale of Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly), a beautiful and fragile young Geisha bride who kills herself after abandonment and betrayal by her husband, a US naval lieutenant temporarily stationed in Japan.


Released in 1907, the opera has long been associated with the famous Scottish merchant Sir Thomas Blake Glover. Born in Fraserburgh, Glover was a key figure in the industrialisation and modernisation of Japan, and his common-law marital relationship with the Japanese woman Awajiya Tsuru, through her son by another father, is said to have been the inspiration for Madama Butterfly.


Glover at one time was the most famous foreigner in Japan, known as the "Scottish Samurai." 

The tragic story follows Cio-Cio-San ( Butterfly), a Japanese geisha  who marries an American naval officer named Pinkerton, only to be abandoned by him, after which she bears his son.  She waits for Pinkerton faithfully and though he returns three years later, he now has an American wife, and wants to take the boy back to America.  Butterfly's humiliation is too much to bear, and as she attempts to commit suicide her boy is pushed into the room to distract and stop her. Butterfly bids a farewell to her son and sends him off to play.  As she stabs herself, Pinkerton's voice is heard far off in the distance calling Butterfly's name.

From the official register's notes:

"The tartan's colours and geometry represent both the Geisha and the Japanese Cherry Blossom. Colours: black, white and red together represent the traditional colours of the Geisha, black for the hair, white for the powdered skin and red for the painted lips (the solid red pivot importantly symbolising the blood of Butterfly's suicidal death strike). The two shades of pink with the muted khaki green represent withering cherry blossom (in Japanese culture the transient nature of cherry blossom is richly symbolic, the intense beauty and abrupt death, being associated with mortality). The tartan's theme of doomed love and death is further represented by the funeral colour black, yet this is equally balanced with pure white, a colour in Japan known to represent joyful life events. Importantly the tartan celebrates a historical industrial relationship between Scotland and Japan."

For more the story's origins, click here.

One of opera's most famous arias is Butterfly's "Un bel dì vedremo," sung in response to friend and housekeeper's Suzuki's expressed doubts that Pinkerton will ever return to Japan.

Click the opera poster from the 1914 production at La Scala, in Milan, for a truly beautiful rendition (with English translation) of the aria  "Un bel di vedremo" sung by Kiri Te Kanawa.

Officially registered tartan graphics on this site courtesy of The Scottish Tartans Authority.  Other tartans from talented tartan artists may also be featured.

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