(Geraldine Farrar as Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly, 1908. Photo from Everett Collection)
Following the 1898 short story Madame Butterfly by John Luther Long, Giacomo Puccini made Cio-Cio San famous with his opera in 1904. The beauty and mystery of Japan's geisha culture have been the fascination of the western world for more than two centuries. The origin of the geisha dates back to the late 600s and there are still modern geishas working in Japan today having studied the same traditional instruments, songs, calligraphy, dances, tea ceremony, literature and poetry of their predecessors.
Cio-Cio San being 15 years old when we meet her in Madame Butterfly, could have been a geisha apprentice or maiko. The maiko was easily identified by her colorful clothing, heavy makeup and elaborate hair style and hair pins.
The young maiko would also have very subtle differences in her makeup application from a full-fledged geisha. Red around the eyes, shortened eybrows and lipstick mixed with crystallized sugar applied only to the bottom lip are hallmarks of the maiko. This look has come to be the Western ideal of what a geisha looks like.
(Geraldine Farrar as Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly, 1916. Photo from Corbis)
Vogue Italia has put together a lovely photo restrospective of the geisha from traditional images dating back to 1890, through the evolving culture in the 1950's to modern film and fashion. Click here to view the album. Then see the beautiful Oksana Dyka as Cio-Cio San in a beautiful and classic production of Madame Butterfly opening November 17.