2019 has been a standout year for Chinese soprano He Hui: the debut of three new roles; a successful run at the Met, including her debut Met Live in HD performance in Madama Butterfly and her 15th consecutive year (a first for a soprano) of singing at the Arena di Verona. And this weekend, He comes full circle as she returns to the Shanghai Grand Theatre, where she made her operatic debut in 1998, to perform Turandot, the Chinese princess of Puccini’s opera of the same name.

Opera plots can often strain credulity; Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, on the other hand, cuts close to the bone. The story—of an American naval officer who woos, marries and deserts a young Japanese girl—matters: it is a tightly-constructed narrative and attempts to reframe it, reposition it in another time or place, can be fraught.

Madama Butterfly, like Giacomo Puccini’s previous blockbuster Tosca, was born out a visit to the theatre. In 1900, the composer was in London for six weeks to oversee the opening of Tosca at Covent Garden on 12 July, when he was persuaded to go to the Duke of York’s Theatre for a double-bill of one act plays, including one called “Madam Butterfly”.