The immediate question raised by turning David Henry Hwang’s superb play M. Butterfly into an opera is whether it can gain enough by the transformation to offset what’s lost. Based on the opening night performance at the Santa Fe Opera on Saturday, the answer is a definite yes.

It’s the company’s best world premiere in many years, far outstripping The Lord of Cries (2021), The Thirteenth Child (2019), Oscar (2013), and Life is a Dream (2010). The closest contender, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (2017), had some storyline oversights that keep it out of the same league.

M. Butterfly centers on the real-life relationship between a French diplomat and a Chinese Opera singer who were jailed in France in 1986 for spying on China’s behalf. At their trial, it was revealed that the singer, who specialized in female roles, was a man, even though the diplomat had believed for more than 20 years that he was a woman. They had fallen in love when the opera singer performed “Un bel dì,” the title character’s poignant aria from Madame Butterfly, at a French embassy party.

Popular in the Community