I was playing through the end of the first act of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on the piano the other day and it occurred to me that one of his great talents, apart from melody, was the ability to delay gratification, getting closer and closer to a climax and then backing away. The duet between Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San is a series of rolling waves of increasing desire, until it resolves in a blaze of passion and the final bars ebb away like a post-orgasmic cigarette. It’s tantric music-making. 

Madama Butterfly

Karah Son and Diego Torre in Madama Butterfly, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, 2023. Photo © Keith Saunders

Given the power of the music, I wondered whether this Puccini fellow was quite sensual in his own life, and after intensive research (googling ‘Puccini’ and ‘sex’), I learned just what an Italian stallion he was.

He had a child with his mistress Elvira and ran off with her whilst she was still married. But one woman was not enough; at the time of composing Madama Butterfly, he was besotted with Corinna who was 20 years old (he was 40-plus) and even bought her a house...