David Henry Hwang’s beautiful, heartrending play was winner of a 1988 Tony Award for Best Play and nominated for the 1989 Pulitzer Prize.
Based on a true story that stunned the world, M. Butterfly opens in the cramped prison cell where French diplomat Rene Gallimard is being held captive by the French government—and by his own illusions
M. Butterfly was inspired by an article Hwang read about the real-life 1986 scandal involving a French diplomat, Bernard Bouriscot, who for twenty years maintained a relationship with an international spy and Chinese opera singer.
Echoing Puccini's Madame Butterfly, this highly theatrical drama presents Rene who is easy prey for the exotic charm of Chinese opera singer Song Liling. Hwang interweaves details from the Bouriscot story with plotlines from Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (1904).
Gallimard first encounters Song on stage as she performs the title role in the opera and develops a relationship with her. Subsequently, he abandons her and returns to his wife in France. Several years later Liling re-establishes a relationship with Gallimard, who is now divorced from his wife.
After living with Liling for over fifteen years, Gallimard is arrested and tried for espionage. He is accused of providing the Chinese government (via Liling) with French state secrets.
In the darkness of his cell he recalls a time when desire seemed to give him wings. A time when Song Liling, the beautiful Chinese diva, touched him with a love as vivid, as seductive—and as elusive—as a butterfly.