(Written 5 Jun 2011) 

Dear All, 

I was recently reminded of the melancholy theme of the  French Lieutenant’s Woman, the one in which a woman is waiting for someone she knows will never come, and I was immediately reminded of that beautiful piece, Un Bel Di (One fine day), in Puccini’s Madam Butterfly in which Butterfly finally comes to terms with the fact that Pinkerton is not coming back to her. What is of particular interest in this part of the opera is that the libretto is at odds with the music and the message. 

The music, the gestures, the sighs and the sad looks tell us that Butterfly has accepted her fate, but the words in the aria tell a different story… all great stuff. Here is a translation of the libretto in question: 

Suzuki [sighing]
Unless he comes, and quickly,
Our plight is a bad one.
 
Butterfly [with decision]
He’ll come, though.
 
Suzuki [shaking her head]
Will he come?
 
Butterfly [vexed, approaches Suzuki]
Why did he order the Consul
To provide this dwelling for us?
Now answer that!

[Suzuki is silent]

[still persists]
And why was he so careful
To have the house provided with safe locks,
If he did not intend to come again?
 
Suzuki
I know not. 
 
Butterfly [rather annoyed and surprised at such ignorance]
Know you not?
[calming down again and with proud confidence]
Then I will tell you. ‘Twas to keep outside
Those spiteful plagues, my relations, who might annoy me;
And inside, ’twas to give to me, his wife, protection,
His beloved little wife Butterfly.
 
Suzuki [still far from convinced]
I never heard as yet
of foreign husband
Who did return to his nest.
 
Butterfly [furious, seizing hold of Suzuki]
Ah! Silence, or I’ll kill you.
[still trying to convince Suzuki]
Why, just before he went,
I asked of him, You’ll come back again to me?
And with his heart so heavy,
To conceal his trouble,
With a smile he made answer:
“O Butterfly
My tiny little child-wife,
I’ll return with the roses,
The warm and sunny season
When the red-breasted robins
Are busy nesting.”
[calm and convinced]
He’ll return.
 
Suzuki [incredulously]
We’ll hope so.
 
Butterfly [insisting]
Say it with me:
He’ll return.
 
Suzuki [to please her, she repeats, but mournfully]
He’ll return.
[bursts into tears]
 
Butterfly [surprised]
Weeping? and why? and why?
Ah, ’tis faith you are lacking!
[full of faith and smiling]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVRhuQWS4tc

 
Hear me. [acts the scene as though it were actually taking place]
One fine day we’ll notice
A thread of smoke arising on the sea
In the far horizon,
And then the ship appearing;
Then the trim white vessel
Glides into the harbour, thunders forth her cannon.
See you? Now he is coming!
I do not go to meet him. Not I! I stay
upon the brow of the hillock, And wait there… and wait
for a long time, But never weary
of the long waiting.
From out the crowded city
There is coming a man,
a little speck in the distance, Climbing the hillock.
Can you guess who it is?
And when he’s reached the summit,
Can you guess what he’ll say?
He will call: “Butterfly” from the distance.
I, without answ’ring,
Hold myself quietly conceal’d,
A bit to tease him and a bit so as not to die
At our first meeting; and then, a little troubled
He will call, he will call:
“Dear baby wife of mine, Dear little orange blossom!”
The names he used to call me when he came here.
[to Suzuki]
This will all come to pass as I tell you.
Banish your idle fears, For he will return I know it.
 
[Butterfly and Suzuki embrace with emotion] 
[Butterfly dismisses Suzuki, who goes out of the door on the left. Butterfly looks after her sadly]
 

Regards

Jeff

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