It focuses upon the perfidy of an American naval officer (named Pinkerton) who, first, abandons his eponymous Japanese wife and, later, takes from her their child, to whom she gave birth in the officer's absence. That the tragedy takes place in Nagasaki, of all cities, renders it an art work barely less altered by history than Shakespeare's play The Merchant Of Venice.
The opera reverberates, not only with the horror of the nuclear attacks on Japan in August 1945, but also with the economic inequalities, and the gender and racial assumptions, which so often distort relations between white men of European descent and east Asian women in our world today. Sadly, Elaine Kidd's revival for Scottish Opera of Sir David McVicar's production from 2000 makes little of these factors.
Instead, we have a somewhat static, almost dull production. There is simply too much shuffling and standing around designer Yannis Thavoris's handsomely traditional Japanese house. When the child, Sorrow, throws his soft toy, with impressive accuracy, hitting the reptilian marriage broker Goro, it is a rare moment of energy and humour.
Hye-Youn Lee (who alternates with Anne Sophie Duprels in the current tour) sings the title role with a perfect combination of beauty, desperate hope, anger and despair, even if more should be made of the tragedy of her demise. José Ferrero's Pinkerton is sung with great depth and self-assuredness, his sizeable frame contrasting powerfully with the diminutive Lee.
A production, then, for those who want to hear this opera sung well; but not for those who hope for an innovative staging of a painfully enduring story.
Tour details for Madama Butterfly can be found at scottishopera.org.uk