Part I 55 minutes Interval 20 minutes Part II 85 minutes
Act I. F.B. Pinkerton, U.S.A. naval officier, is in love with Cio-Cio- San, who is known by the name of Butterfly. Now, guided by the obliging Goro, he approaches the little house on the hill of Nagasaki where he will spend his honeymoon after the marriage has been performed according to the Japanese custom «for nine hundred and ninety nine years, saving that it can ben dissolved each month». Goro shows Pinkerton the house and presents to him Suzuki and the other servants. He then completes the preparations for the arrival of the bridal procession which, after Sharpless — the American Consul — has arrived, can be heard in the distance. The bride approaches with her friends and a ceremonious array of relatives. Hardly has the marriage been registered that the festivities are interrupted by Butterfly’s uncle the bonze: he is furious that Butterfly has renounced the religion of her ancestors and married a foreigner. Angrily he curses her. Irritated by this disturbance, Pinkerton orders everybody to go, leaving him alone with Butterfly to enjoy the delights of the hour.
Act II. For the past three years Pinkerton has been in America but Butterfly still waits for him. She is convinced that he will return and says so to the devoted Suzuki, refusing to be cast down by the latter’s doubts and exalting her hopes by thinking of the future happiness that will be hers on the return of Pinkerton. She almost refuses to listen to Sharpless who has come with a letter from Pinkerton in which he announces he is coming back but not alone, with him is his real wife. To Sharpless, Butterfly recounts how the greedy marriage broker, Goro, would like to make a match between her and the rich Yamadori. And when Yamadori arrives to renew his proposal, Butterfly coldly desires him to leave. Eventually Sharpless is able to read the letter, though Butterfly interrupts him continually. Towards the end, however, his courage fails him and he cannot finish the reading because Butterfly show him her son, born of her union with Pinkerton and of whose existence he knows nothing. Sharpless is deeply moved and promises to use his influence with Pinkerton. The sound of a cannon from the harbour annonces the arrival of a man-of-war. Butterfly runs to the terrace to look through a telescope at the ship which, with great excitement, she recognizes to be Pinkerton’s. When she is calmer Butterfly gets Suzuki to help her trim the house with flowers and, arraying herself in her bridal dress, she keeps watch for the coming of Pinkerton. The night is over. Butterfly carries the still sleeping child into the next room. Pinkerton arrives with his American wife, Kate, and Sharpless but his remorse is so strong that he cannot bear to stay. Sharpless asks Suzuki to persuade Butterfly to give up the child. Butterfly coming back into the room meets Kate who, together with Suzuki, tries to make her see reason. In the end Butterfly is resigned to the idea of giving up her son but she imposes a condition, that she may give him into Pinkerton’s keeping herself. Left on her own she takes up the sword with which «one dies with honour», but the unexpected appearance of her child interrupts her. Butterfly kisses him for the last time and push him gently out into the garden, then she retires behind a screen. When Pinkerton arrives it is too late: Butterfly breathes her last.