The Day Will Come: A Close Look at “Un bel dì” as Aria and Motif
Act Two finds Cio-Cio-San changed. No longer a shy 15-year-old seeking her new husband’s affection and approval, she is an 18-year-old single mother trying to make sense of her predicament—or perhaps, to avoid its bleak reality. When her companion Suzuki tries to help her understand that Pinkerton may never return, she responds with the glorious aria “Un bel dì”(“One beautiful day”). (The words can be found on the reproducible here.)
The first section of the aria, Track 24, establishes the melodic theme as it sets the stage for Cio-Cio-San’s fantasy—the arrival of a great white ship in Nagasaki’s harbor.
She continues the story of the arrival in Track 25, then changes course: Though he will have come, she will not go to meet him (“Io no!”).
She imagines herself waiting—the last few minutes of a waiting period that’s already lasted years: Track 26.
And coyly, in Track 27, she begins by pretending not to know which man might be climbing the hill to her house.
In Track 28, with her delicately flirtatious “Chi sarà?” (“Who could it be”), Puccini and his librettist set the stage for a magnificent, victorious conclusion to the fantasy—as Pinkerton again calls her by the pet names he’d used years before. Finally, Cio-Cio-San all but acknowledges how hard this tale is to believe and forbids Suzuki to contradict her.
“Un bel dì” takes on even greater meaning when its main theme recurs at two key points in Act II. When Sharpless asks the name of Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton’s son, she tells him it is Dolore (or Trouble). Then, as she’s about to tell how the name will be changed to Gioia (or Joy) the day Pinkerton returns, the orchestra accompanies Cio-Cio-San with the “Un bel dì” theme: Track 29.
Soon after, a cannon sounds in the harbor and Suzuki says she sees a warship. The “bel dì” has come—and Puccini marks it with the theme established by the aria: Track 30.