On a flowering terrace above Nagasaki harbor, U.S. Navy lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton inspects the house he has leased from a marriage broker, Goro, who has procured him servants and a geisha wife, Cio-Cio-San, known as Madame Butterfly. The American consul, Sharpless, arrives, and Pinkerton describes the carefree philosophy of a sailor roaming the world in search of pleasure. At the moment, he is enchanted with the fragile Cio-Cio-San, but the 999-year marriage contract Goro has arranged contains a monthly renewal option. When Sharpless warns that the girl may not take her vows so lightly, Pinkerton brushes aside such scruples, saying he will one day marry a “real” American wife. Cio-Cio-San is heard joyously singing of her wedding. Entering surrounded by friends; she tells Pinkerton how, when her family fell on hard times, she had to earn her living as a geisha. Her relatives bustle in noisily expressing their opinions on marriage. In a quiet moment, Cio-Cio-San shows her bridegroom her few earthly treasures and tells him she intends to embrace his Christian faith. The Imperial Commissioner performs the wedding ceremony, and the guests toast the couple. The celebration in interrupted by Cio-Cio-San’s uncle, a Buddhist priest, who bursts upon the scene, cursing the girl for renouncing her ancestor’s religion. Pinkerton angrily sends the guests away. Alone with Cio-Cio-San in the moonlit garden, he dries her tears, and she joins him in singing of their love.
Three years later, Cio-Cio-San awaits her husband’s return. As Suzuki prays to her gods for aid, her mistress stands in the doorway, her eyes fixed on the harbor. When the maid shows her how little money is left, Cio-Cio-San urges her to have faith: one fine day, Pinkerton’s ship will appear on the horizon. Sharpless brings a letter from the lieutenant, but before he can read it Goro presents a wealthy suitor, Prince Yamadori. The girl dismisses both the marriage broker and the prince, insisting that her American husband has not deserted her. Sharpless again starts to read her the letter and tactfully suggests that Pinkerton may never return. Cio-Cio-San proudly carries forth her child, Dolore, saying that as soon as Pinkerton knows of his son’s existence he surely will come back; if he does not, she would rather die than return to her former life. Moved by her devotion and faith. Sharpless leaves. Cio-Cio-San, on the point of despair, hears a cannon report; seizing a spyglass, she discovers Pinkerton’s ship entering the harbor. Delirious with joy, she orders Suzuki to help her strew the house with flowers. As night falls, Cio-Cio-San, Suzuki and the child begin their vigil.
As dawn breaks, Suzuki insists that Cio-Cio-San rest. Humming a lullaby to her son, she carries him to another room. Sharpless enters with Pinkerton, followed by Kate, his new wife. When Suzuki learns who the American woman is, she collapses in despair but agrees to aid in breaking the news. Pinkerton, overcome with remorse, bids an anguished farewell to the scene of his former happiness, then rushes away. When Cio-Cio-San comes forth expecting to find him, she finds Kate instead. Guessing the truth, Cio-Cio-San agrees to give up her child if his father will return for him. Then, sending even Suzuki away, she takes out a dagger with which her father committed suicide and bows before a statue of Buddha, choosing to die with honor rather than live in disgrace. Just as she raises the blade, Suzuki pushes the child into the room. Sobbing a farewell, Cio-Cio-San sends him into the garden to play, then stabs herself. As she dies, Pinkerton is heard calling her name.
Courtesy of Opera News