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Accessible arias: Madama Butterfly's Un bel dì

A deeper look at the aria from Act II from Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

By Emma Beatty (Former Features Editor)

30 June 2011 at 4.49pm | Comment on this article

This famous soprano aria opens Act II, after Butterfly, the young Japanese Geisha girl, has married her American admirer Pinkerton in Act I. It establishes that  Butterfly has now been abandoned by Pinkerton, but still clings to the hope that he will come back to her.  The oppressive atmosphere of the house, which penniless Butterfly now rarely leaves, is conjured by Puccini’s unique sound world: two flutes open the act, playing in unison. Butterfly entreats her maid to have faith, and reassures her that Pinkerton will return to save them.

She sings of keeping watch for his boat, secure in the knowledge that ‘one beautiful day’ (un bel dì), he will return.  She’ll see a puff of smoke on the far horizon, she says, and his ship will appear.  This is indeed what is about to happen, but Butterfly’s longed-for beautiful day will prove to be her last, as the tragically soaring melodies of this aria hint.

Listen: Archive audio of Un bel di, Cristina Gallardo-Domas sings the role of Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly) in a BBC Radio 3 recording from the 2003 Royal Opera production.

Lyrics: In the original Italian and English translation

Un bel dì,
vedremo levarsi un fil di fumo
Sull’estremo confin del mare.
E poi la nave appare. 

Poi la nave bianca entra nel porto,
romba il suo saluto.
Vedi? È venuto!
Io non gli scendo incontro, io no.
Mi metto là sul ciglio del colle
e aspetto e aspetto gran tempo
e non mi pesa la lunga attesa.
E uscito dalla folla cittadina
un uomo, un picciol punto
s’avvia per la collina.

Chi sarà? Chi sarà?
E come sarà giunto?,
che dirà? Che dirà?

Chiamerà Butterfly dalla lontana
Io senza dar risposta me ne starò nascosta.

Un po’ per celia,
un po’ per non morire
al primo incontro,
ed egli al quanto in pena
Chiamerà, chiamerà:
‘Piccina mogliettina
Olezzo di verbena’
I nomi che mi dava al suo venire.

Tutto questo avverrà, te lo prometto.
tienti la tua paura io con sicura fede l’aspetto.

One beautiful day,
we’ll see a plume of smoke
on the far edge of the sea.
And then a boat will appear. 

Then a white ship will come into the port,
and sound its horn.
Do you see it? He is coming!
I won’t go down to meet him, not I.
I’ll wait here on the hill and wait
and wait a long time
and I won’t mind the wait at all.
And out of the crowd
a man will set off on his own,
a little speck climbing the hill.

Who will it be? Who will it be?
And how will he appear?
What will he say? What will he say?

He’ll call out ‘Butterfly’ from far away.
But I won’t answer, I’ll hide.

Just to tease him a little,
just to save myself from
dying at our first meeting,
and he, a little troubled,
will call out, will call out
‘my dear little wife,
sweet verbena blossom.’
The names he called me when we first met.

All this will happen, I promise you.
Don’t worry; I am very sure that he will come.

Libretto: Luigi Illica (1857-1919) and Giuseppe Giacosa (1847-1906). Giacosa was a poet, playwright and librettist. He collaborated with the writer Luigi Illica on the librettos for three of Puccini’s most popular operas: La bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly.

World premiere: 17 February 1904, Teatro alla Scala, Milan.
Current Royal Opera production: directors: Moshe Leiser & Patrice Caurier

Score by Ricordi, as sung on stage, translations: Emma Beatty/Michele Bona.

By Emma Beatty (Former Features Editor)

30 June 2011 at 4.49pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged arias, Cristina Gallardo-Domas, Giuseppe Giacosa, Luigi Illica, Madama Butterfly, Puccini, The Royal Opera, Un bel dì

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