There are some pieces of music that instantly make the hair on your arms stand up – or give you goosebumps – or both. It’s usually the ones that break your heart while they’re at it. In the opera world, arias are the go-to heartbreakers. You’ve heard them, from Violetta’s final aria (Verdi’s La Traviata) to “Il dolce suono” (Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor). Why? An aria – like a monologue in a play or a solo song in a musical – is the truest expression of a character’s desires and soul; it’s an outpouring of emotion. They’re usually sung when a character is most vulnerable.
Perhaps one of the most vulnerable characters in opera history is Japanese geisha, Cio-Cio-San, in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. In the opera, Cio-Cio-San marries American naval officer Pinkerton. She loves him, but abandons her and returns to the United States. “Un bel di vedremo” or “One Fine Day” is an aria Cio-Cio-San sings about waiting for Pinkerton’s return. She longs for the day when she will see the sails of his ship on the horizon and describes how she will wait for him to come to her rather than run down to greet him on shore. Three years later, Pinkerton returns – a new American wife in tow – and demands that Cio-Cio-San give up their son. (Tragic and heart wrenching – but that’s what opera is all about.)
Ana María Martínez (who is currently tackling the role of Cio-Cio-San at The Metropolitan Opera) portrays the doomed geisha in our production of Madame Butterfly, opening next month. Hear her rendition of the famous aria below before seeing it live.