Giacomo Puccini: Un bel dì vedremo


Giacomo Puccini composed music for the opera Madama Butterfly between 1903-04. The libretto was by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. The premiere was held on 17th February 1904 at La Scala in Milan. The opera is based on John Luther Long’s short story Madame Butterfly (1898). The opera is now one of the staples in the operatic circle, with Un bel dì vedremo being the most popular aria in the opera. 

Un bel dì vedremo (‘One fine day we’ll see) is written for the lead soprano Cio-Cio San (Butterfly), who sings optimistically about the return of her absent love interest, Pinkerton. The scene is shared with Butterfly’s main Suzuki, who is not as optimistic about Pinkerton’s return from the U.S. Army. 

The aria shows Butterfly trying to convince Suzuki of Pinkerton’s return through an imaginary scene where far distant smoke signals show the long-awaited return of a white ship into Nagasaki harbour. The imaginary scene climaxes when the two lovers are reunited in Japan. 

The Lyrics

Un bel dì, vedremo / One fine day we’ll notice

Levarsi un fil di fumo sull’estremo / a thread of smoke arising

Confin del mare. / on the sea, in the far horizon.

E poi la nave appare. / and then the ship appearing;

Poi la nave bianca / Then the trim white vessel

entra nel porto, romba il suo saluto. / glides into the harbour, thunders forth her cannon.

Vedi? È venuto! / See you? Now he is coming!

lo non gli scendo incontro. lo no. Mi metto / I do not go to meet him. Not I.

Là sul ciglio del colle e aspetto, e aspetto / I stay upon the brow of the hillock, and wait there

gran tempo e non mi pesa / and wait for a long time, but never weary

la lunga attesa. / of the long waiting.

E…uscito dalla folla cittadina / From out the crowded city crowd

un uomo, un picciol punto / there is coming a man, a little speck

S’avvia per la collina. / in the distance, climbing the hillock.

Chi sarà? Chi sarà? / Can you guess who it is?

E come sarà giunto / and when he’s reached the summit,

che dirà? Che dirà? / can you guess what he’ll say?

Chiamerà Butterfly dalla lontana. / He will call: Butterfly from the distance.

lo senza dar risposta / I, without answering,

me ne starò nascosta / hold myself quietly concealed. 

un po’ per celia…e un po’ per non morire / a bit to tease him and a bit so as to not die

al primo incontro, ed egli alquanto in pena / at our first meeting; and then, a little troubled,

Chiamerà, chiamerà; / he will call, he will call;

“Piccina mogliettina, / “Dear baby wife of mine,

olezzo di verbena” / dear little orange blossom!”

i nomi che mi dava al suo venire. / The names he used to call me when he came here.

Turning to Suzuki

Tutto questo avverrà, / This will all come to pass,

te lo prometto. / as I tell you.

Tienti la tua paura – io con sicura / Banish your idle fears for he will return,

Fede lo aspetto. / I know it. 

The Music

The aria is known for its ethereal beauty, which slowly grows into a magnificent climax when the lovers reunite at the end of the piece. The drama instilled by Puccini’s clever orchestration heightens the importance of this aria within the context of the opera. The fizzing strings paired with the flowing winds makes this an unforgettable part of the opera.

Through the lyrics Puccini utilises the music to represent Butterfly’s strength, whilst also showing her heartbreak at the reality of the situation. The aria begins with Butterfly entering in a vulnerable manner, although ironically this requires much control from the soprano. The simple melody from the vocalist is supported by a shimmering orchestral accompaniment. The music here sets the scene for Butterfly’s imaginary scene. 

The music is in the minor mode, which gives it a tinge of melancholy throughout that shows the heartbreak and tragedy still to come. There is an interesting dichotomy between the more positive voice from the vocalist against the minor mode accompaniment, which keep us partially in reality.

The opening theme returns two more times, both with more power than the last. Puccini highlights certain words such as ‘morire’ (die) and ‘aspetto’ (I wait), which sees the orchestra performing with full force and with Butterfly singing her highest note.The incredibly powerful end to this stunning aria shows Butterfly’s certain hope that she will reunite with Pinkteron once more, which only plays with our emotions even more!

Final Thoughts

Un bel dì vedremo is a pivotal aria in Madama Butterfly as it poses deep repercussions for the title role. The day that Butterfly is set to see Pinkerton again is acted out at the end of Act 2, but it is not how she expected. When the ship sails in Butterfly learns that Pinkerton has married another woman. The tragedy prevails over the rest of the opera with a completely distraught Butterfly taking her own life at the end of the opera.

The aria encapsulates the tragedy threaded throughout much of the opera, whilst also foreshadowing Butterfly’s inevitable demise at the end of the story. It appeals to audiences due to its emotive pull and beautiful music, whilst also staying true to the tragic undertones of the opera.

Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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