The plot and the protagonists of Madama ButterflyCast of Characters
Madama Butterfly, Cio Cio San
Suzuki, Cio Cio San's maid
F.B. Pinkerton, Lieutenant of the United States Navy
Sharpless, Consul of the United States in Nagasaki
Cio Cio San's mother
On a hill near Nagasaki, Goro, a marriage broker, shows the American naval lieutenant Pinkerton the house the latter has bought (''for 999 years'') and where he intends to live with Cio-Cio-San, the young geisha he is shortly to marry. The marriage has been arranged on payment of 100 yen and in the Japanese fashion: that is to say to last for 999 years unless, as is quite possible, it is dissolved at the end of every month. Goro introduces Suzuki, Cio-Cio-San's maid, to the officer. Sharpless, the American consul in Nagasaki now arrives and Pinkerton confesses to him that he likes to enjoy the pleasures of life without any thought for the risks involved or for the virtue of others. Sharpless does not share this frivolous outlook and, although he drinks with his friend, advises him not to marry. In the distance the voices of Cio-Cio-San and her companions are heard. The geisha, whom Pinkerton has nicknamed ''Butterfly'', arrives with relatives and friends, and expresses her happiness. The marriage is solemnized by a Japanese imperial commissioner, but the festivities after the ceremony are brusquely interrupted by an old uncle who is a bonze, or priest. He points out that by marrying a westerner Cio-Cio-San has repudiated the religion of her ancestors and calls down a curse on her. Her relations disperse, intimidated by the words of the bonze which have reduced ''little Butterfly'' to tears. But Pinkerton is touched, consoles her and with expressions of tenderness encourages her to enjoy the fascinating spectacle of the starlit night approaching. A moving love duet concludes the act.
In her house Butterfly listens to the prayers of Suzuki and still confident that Pinkerton, who has been away for three years, will come back, tries to reassure her doubting servant by imagining the arrival of the beloved (''Un bel dì vedremo...''). Goro ushers in Sharpless and in his presence advises Butterfly to marry the rich prince Yamadori who has long sought her hand. She refuses with disdain and dismisses the suitor. The Consul is embarrassed because he has to read to Cio-Cio-San a letter in which Pinkerton gives the news of his recent marriage to an American woman. The reading of the letter is frequently interrupted by Butterfly, who is still convinced that her husband will come back. Sharpless is moved to pity and cannot bring himself to tell her the truth plainly. When he tries to do so, she shows him the little child of whom Pinkerton is the father, and with whom she will be forced to go and beg on the streets if her husband should never come back. She turns to the child and sings a song that expresses her tenderness. The Consul departs, deeply moved. A cannon shot puts an end to Butterfly's sadness. It is the signal that an American ship has dropped anchor - the ship on which Pinkerton embarked. Cio-Cio-San decorates her house with flowers and prepares to keep vigil, while the "nocturnal interlude'' begins with its haunting humming chorus.
The night has passed but the vigil has been in vain. A new day dawns. Butterfly is exhausted and Suzuki persuades her to go and rest with the child. Pinkerton arrives with his wife Kate and Sharpless; he intends to persuade Cio-Cio-San to hand over their son to him. But when he hears from Suzuki of Butterfly's suffering, of her great love, of how she has waited for him so faithfully, he is overcome by remorse ("Addio fiorito asil") and hurries away. Cio-Cio-San returns in the belief that she will find her bridegroom but instead sees the American woman and guesses the truth. She realizes she has been abandoned and also why the pair have come. When Kate asks her to entrust her with the child, Cio-Cio-San replies that she will hand him over to his father if Pinkerton will come and fetch him. When she is alone again, Cio-Cio-San takes a sword, kisses the blade and prepares for suicide. She says a last farewell to her son ("Tu piccolo Iddio"); then she blindfolds him and strikes the mortal blow behind a screen. From outside comes the anguished voice of Pinkerton calling ''Butterfly! Butterfly!''. When he enters, Cio-Cio-San with a final gesture shows him the child and breathes her last breath.