On the night of its world premiere at the Teatro alla Scala di Milano on 17 February 1904, Giacomo Puccini’s opera, probably his most popular to date, experienced a fiasco: Possibly goaded on by an intrigue, the audience flatly rejected this tragedy of a Japanese woman. This, however, is a fate that the work shares with many other worldwide hits of the operatic canon: Georges Bizet’s CARMEN or Kurt Weill’s RISE AND FALL OF THE CITY OF MAHAGONNY only became favourites of opera audiences over time. Giacomo Puccini, however, believed in his work: My Butterfly remains what it is. The most emotional opera that I have ever written! He was to be proved right: Only a few months after the initial debacle, MADAMA BUTTERFLY celebrated a resounding success at Teatro Grande Brescia in a (slightly) modified version.
Nagasaki, Japan, around 1900: Pinkerton, a lieutenant in the American Navy, has fallen in love with 15-year-old Cio-Cio-San, also called Butterfly. Their wedding, conducted according to Japanese ritual, however, is only a formal farce to him, and soon afterwards, his human toy finds herself alone with their son. Three years later, Pinkerton returns to Japan, but not for her sake. With his new wife, he wants to take the child to live with him in America. Cio-Cio-San takes her own life.