A hillside facing Nagasaki.
On shore leave, Lieutenant Pinkerton of the U.S. Navy has, in accordance with Japanese custom, has contracted to marry the fifteen-year-old geisha Cio-Cio-San, known as Butterfly. While Pinkerton awaits his bride, the marriage
broker Goro shows him round the house he has rented, on a hill overlooking the harbour and city of Nagasaki. The broker introduces Pinkerton to the servants and to Suzuki, Cio-Cio-San’s maid. The U.S. Consul, Sharpless, arrives, out of breath after climbing the hill. Pinkerton confides him his cynical attitude to life, which is to seize pleasures whenever one finds them. Extolling the attractions of his future bride, he tells the consul of his arrangement to marry her under Japanese law, which leaves him free to repudiate
her at any time. Sharpless, recalling Butterfly’s visit to the consulate and her touching sincerity, warns Pinkerton not to cause the girl suffering. But the lieutenant laughs at his scruples and drinks to the day he will marry a true American wife. Goro announces the arrival of Cio-Cio-San and her family.
The bride expresses her happiness to her friends and makes her introductions, after which the Imperial Commissioner celebrates the marriage. But the ceremony is disturbed by the abrupt entry of the bride’s Bonze uncle,
who has heard that Butterfly has renounced the religion of her ancestors to embrace the Christian faith. He pours curses upon her in front of her horrified relatives. Pinkerton chases them all out and Butterfly, although abandoned
by her family, remains lost in her dream of love. Pinkerton puts hisarms round her and leads her into the house as the soft night falls.
In Butterfly’s little house.
Butterfly is talking to Suzuki. It is now three years since Pinkerton sailed away to America, promising to return in the spring, but he has sent no news. The trusting and loving girl, despite Suzuki’s attempts to open her eyes, still expects her husband to come back. Sharpless and Goro appear. The consul has come to deliver Butterfly a letter in which Pinkerton announces his forthcoming arrival. He also begs the consul to inform Cio-Cio-San that he has married an American woman. Taking pity on her, the consul hasn’t the heart to deliver this message. Meanwhile Goro proposes new suitors to Butterfly, including the rich prince Yamadori, who is eager to marry her. But the girl disdainfully rejects him, declaring that she is still Pinkerton’s wife. Sharpless prepares himself to disillusion her, but when Butterfly shows him the child she has had by Pinkerton, whose existence the consul had been unaware of, he decides not to tell her the bitter truth. A salute of cannon is heard. In the port of Nagasaki an American vessel has berthed. Butterfly points her telescope and recognises Pinkerton’s ship. Radiant, she decorates
the house with flowers, puts on her wedding dress and prepares to stay up all night to await her beloved.
At dawn Butterfly, who has waited in vain all night, goes upstairs to rest with her sleeping child. Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive with Kate, Pinkerton’s American wife. The consul has informed the lieutenant that he has a child,
and Pinkerton now wishes to take the little boy back with him to his country, to be educated in the Western manner. Suzuki thinks sorrowfully of her mistress’s broken heart and cannot bring herself to inform her. Pinkerton looks at the little house, where all has remained exactly as it was when he left. He is overcome with regret and remorse. Butterfly, coming downstairs just as Pinkerton has hurried away in distress, catches sight of Kate on the terrace. In a flash the truth is brought home to her. But she does not cry or complain. After a poignant exchange with Kate, she agrees to part from her son provided that the child’s father comes for him himself. Alone with her child, she blindfolds him and gives him a last despairing hug. She then takes the
same dagger with which her father committed suicide, and kills herself. Pinkerton, who has returned to beg forgiveness but too late, clasps Butterfly’s