Accessible arias: Madama Butterfly's Un bel dì
A deeper look at the aria from Act II from Puccini's Madama Butterfly.
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.
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,
Chi sarà? Chi sarà?
Chiamerà Butterfly dalla lontana
Un po’ per celia,
Tutto questo avverrà, te lo prometto.
|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,
Who will it be? Who will it be?
He’ll call out ‘Butterfly’ from far away.
Just to tease him a little,
All this will happen, I promise you.
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.