Nessun dorma

by CynthiaYockey on April 19, 2009

I gather it is heresy for a conservative to love PBS and NPR, but Margaret did, and I do.

When I came downstairs this morning my father was watching a PBS fundraising show on television featuring the life of Luciano Pavarotti and his seven greatest arias. Apparently one of the best things I ever did for my father is get him a ticket to see Pavarotti when he sang in Baltimore.

My favorite aria of all time is “Nessun Dorma” from the opera Turandot by Puccini. Here are the lyrics, with a translation:

The Prince
Nessun dorma, nessun dorma …
Tu pure, o Principessa,
Nella tua fredda stanza,
Guardi le stelle
Che tremano d’amore
E di speranza.

No one sleeps, no one sleeps…
Even you, o Princess,
In your cold room,
Watch the stars,
That tremble with love
And with hope.

Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
Il nome mio nessun saprà, no, no,
Sulla tua bocca lo dirò
Quando la luce splenderà,
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio
Che ti fa mia.

But my secret is hidden within me;
My name no one shall know, no, no,
On your mouth I will speak it*
When the light shines,
And my kiss will dissolve the silence
That makes you mine.

Il nome suo nessun saprà
E noi dovrem, ahimè, morir.

No one will know his name
And we must, alas, die.

The Prince
Dilegua, o notte!
Tramontate, stelle!
All’alba vincerò!

Vanish, o night!
Set**, stars!
At daybreak, I shall conquer!

* “Dire sulla bocca”, literally “to say on the mouth”, is a poetic Italian way of saying “to kiss.” (Or so I’ve been told, but perhaps a native speaker can confirm or deny this.) I’ve also been told that a line from a Marx Brothers movie — “I wasn’t kissing her, I was whispering in her mouth” — is a conscious imitation of the Italian phrase.

** “Tramontate” literally means “go behind the mountains”, but it’s the word Italians use for sunset and the like. It’s also a word Turandot uses after Calaf kisses her: “E l’alba! Turandot tramonta!” (“It’s dawn, Turandot descends!”) This suggests yet another mythopoetic theme which pervades the Turandot libretto — the sun god’s defeat of the moon goddess — but I won’t get into that….

Copyright © 1997, Mark D. Lew

And here is Pavarotti:

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