Adapted from a play by David Belasco, composer Giacomo Puccini's first version of the Japanese tragedy was presented at La Scala on February 17th, 1904.
The premiere was a fiasco, with the audience booing and hissing throughout and fights even breaking out in the stalls.
"The premiere was very controversial. The time was not ready for an opera where a woman kills herself in front of the audience by committing harakiri," said La Scala's CEO and artistic director, Alexander Pereira.
Chastened by the reaction of the public and ferocious press criticism, Puccini withdrew the work after a single performance.
After a substantial rewrite that included reorganizing it into three acts instead of two, Puccini put the new production on in Brescia, northern Italy, three months later.
It was a triumph and Madame Butterfly went on to conquer the world, establishing itself as one of the best-known and popular operas, a status it retains to this day.
As first envisaged
Wednesday's opening, traditionally one of the key dates on Italy's social calendar, was to be followed by a gala dinner attended by, amongst other notables, Spain's former monarch, King Juan Carlos, and four citizens from Italy's earthquake-devastated areas.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella and a number of government ministers cancelled because of the ongoing political crisis in Rome.
Pereira said it would be fascinating for opera buffs to hear Madame Butterfly "in the version that Puccini originally intended."
The production is conducted by Riccardo Chailly and has been staged by Alvis Hermanis with Uruguayan soprano Maria Jose Siri in the title role of young geisha Cio-Cio-San and American tenor Bryan Hymel playing Lieutenant Pinkerton.
The performance was to be broadcast live by Italian TV group Rai and radios around the world with simultaneous projections also scheduled in theatres, museums and even prisons in the Milan area.
The performance kicks off a season which will focus on Italy's opera tradition, with nine homegrown works out of 15 to be put on.
Highlights include performances of Verdi's "Don Carlos", "Falstaff" and "La Traviata", Puccini's "La Boheme" and Mozart's "Don Giovanni."
By Celine Cornu