While stationed in Japan, the American Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton has purchased
both a house and a bride. He is warned by the American consul, Sharpless,
that his wife-to-be, Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly), takes this marriage very
seriously, but Pinkerton is unimpressed.
arrives with her friends and relatives for the wedding. She confides to
Pinkerton that, as proof of her commitment to her new husband, she has
converted to Christianity. The marriage ceremony takes place, but the
festivities are interrupted by the Bonze, a Shinto priest, who curses
Butterfly for having given up her religion. Her friends and relatives
renounce her, but she asserts that she is happy in Pinkerton's love.
Pinkerton has been gone from Japan for three years. Butterfly,
still an outcast from her family, remains confident of his return. Sharpless
arrives with a letter from him. Butterfly is so excited about it that
the consul is never able to read it in full. When he suggests that Pinkerton
might never return, Butterfly reveals that, unknown to Pinkerton, she
has borne him a son. Sharpless promises to tell him of the child. A cannon
shot from the harbor announces the return of Pinkerton's ship. Butterfly,
with her servant Suzuki, decorates the house. As night closes in, she
waits for her husband.
Butterfly has waited through the night, but only after she has
gone to rest does Sharpless arrive, accompanied by Pinkerton and his American
wife, Kate. Pinkerton realizes what sorrow he has caused and leaves. Sharpless
and Kate remain to claim the child. Butterfly has no choice but to agree
to yield to him. Left alone, she is reunited with her people by following
the principle of her ancestors: "Let him die with honor who no longer
can live his life with honor."