My All-Time Favorite Song – Un bel di

Randy Seaver of Geneamusings suggests a blog topic each  Saturday night – typically on a genealogy subject; this week his suggestion is to write about your all-time favorite song, why it’s at the top of the list or any story about it. He admitted it may be difficult to narrow down our favorites to just one – that is ridiculously true.

Because my Mother loved music and either listened to it or sang it constantly, I was raised in a home where music was always present. Then, when I was in junior high, I discovered the joys of choral music through church and school choirs, plus I watched many of the fabulous movie musicals of the 1940’s and 1950’s, and the predictable result was that music became a central feature of who I am. I did a degree in opera performance and sang with a local opera company for twenty years.

The aspect of music that draws me most is melody. I know many people are drawn to harmony or the beat or the story, but for me melody is key and every other aspect of music is to support the melody. One of the first songs I remember being irrisistably drawn to was Cio-Cio San’s aria, ‘Un bel di,’ from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. I was a student at Capitol Hill Junior High when the students were shown a film version of Madame Butterfly; when I heard that aria I was immediately overwhelmed by its beauty and it sounded in my heart and mind for years. I’ve attached a YouTube video of a performance by Dorothy Kirsten that, if not what I heard and saw, is at least very similar to my recollection of it.

It was the strongest desire of my heart that I would have a voice that was capable of singing that song beautifully. When I enrolled at Oklahoma State University as a voice major, the first question I asked my voice teacher was if I would ever be able to sing that song. She assured me, though it was a little advanced for a freshman voice student, that I would someday be able to sing it.

I had to wait until my senior recital to finally perform my ideal song – and due to moving around a lot, that didn’t happen until I was 46. By that time I had added other Puccini songs to my list of favorites and so also included the ending song from Madame Butterfly, which depicts her death by suicide, as well as the soprano aria from Turandot, “In questa reggia,” which had by that time taken over as my favorite Puccini aria [for the soprano voice – the tenor aria “Nessun Dorma” (also from Turandot) is probably my favorite Puccini aria to listen to].

Yes, there are many songs I love, but there will always be a special place in my heart for “Un bel di” because it was the aria and the story that introduced me to the beauty of opera – a lifelong journey.

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