Matchmakers in opera

27 April 2022

When it comes to love, opera has it all – the happy ever after, the heartache and let’s not forget the controversies. We at Welsh National Opera explore the greatest and quite possibly the worst matchmakers in opera, from The Barber of Seville to Don Pasquale and not forgetting Madam Butterfly, which forms part of our Spring 2022 Season.

Central to the story in Puccini’s Madam Butterfly is Goro, who acquires the 15-year-old Butterfly for the lieutenant Pinkerton.

Madam Butterfly, known as a powerful story of unrequited love, alongside human pain and suffering is a great example of matchmaking in opera. The plot begins as Pinkerton, a young American arranges with Goro that he acquires a 15-year-old bride, Cio-Cio San (Butterfly), however things turn bleak as Pinkerton has no real intentions of marrying her for legitimate reasons seeing her as a commodity he can discard when he chooses. He intends on leaving her shortly after they marry, and only marries her for convenience until he finds himself an American wife. Sadly Goro, who plays the matchmaker here does not have favourable intentions for Butterfly as he is aware of Pinkerton’s notion of abandoning her. This can be interpreted as a selfish way of matchmaking two characters in opera as Goro profits financially from this set up without considering the consequences this has on the innocent Butterfly. He actively participates in deceiving Butterfly, and eventually tries marrying her to Yamadori, a character in the opera who is known for marrying and divorcing women. Butterfly’s only hope here is financial redemption, but eventually rejects his proposal of marriage. 

Later in the opera Butterfly then reveals she has given birth to Pinkerton’s son after he had left and wishes his return. Disastrously for Butterfly, when her husband returns, he is newly married to a fellow American named Kate, in which she has agreed to raise their child. Sadly, we learn in this heart-wrenching opera that Goro’s arrangements to wed Butterfly and Pinkerton had resulted in severe heartache for Butterfly as her love was not reciprocated.

On a lighter note, in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville we meet opera’s ultimate cupid, Figaro. Rosina has several suitors, including her lecherous guardian Dr Bartolo who plans on marrying her. However, keen to see true love prevail, Figaro helps the besotted Count Almaviva win Rosina’s heart through a series of tricks and new identities. This opera buffa (a comic opera) sees Figaro playing the ultimate matchmaker in a fun and mysterious way.

There’s also a matchmaker in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale but unlike Figaro, Dr Malatesta uses his matchmaking skills to scheme and scam. Using an old bachelor’s romantic delusions to his advantage, Malatesta help the young lovers Norina and Ernesto trick the old man and secure their future. This classic story was recreated in WNO’s previous 2018/2019 season, where a cast of larger-than-life characters saw kebab van owner Pasquale on a quest to find a wife and to produce a son to secure their future in the 21st century.

See Goro in action this Season as WNO’s ‘piercingly emotional’ production of Madam Butterfly returns to our stages for a limited number of performances.