Nessun Dorma |All about the most famous aria in history
Nessun Dorma is the most popular aria of Turandot one of the best works by composer Giacomo Puccini, but it’s also a theme full of surprises, did you know that it is unfinished?, that despite speaking of love, the opera is enormously macabre, decapitations, tortures and even a suicide. Do you know how Pavarotti came to sing it and that there is a performance even more famous than his? It’s time to learn all about one of the most beautiful arias in history.
Reading Time | 10 min
Listening Time | 9 min
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Video | Luciano Pavarotti Nessun Dorma
- Trembol | Story behind Nessun Dorma
- Who is Giacomo Puccini?
- Turandot | From the Persian Empire to Puccini
- What is Turandot about?
- You can’t miss |Best parts of Nessun Dorma
- This is what it says | Nessun Dorma Lyrics in English
- Did you know | Fun facts about Nessun Dorma
- Much more | Nessun Dorma versions
- Technical Note about Turandot and Nessun Dorma
- Luciano Pavarotti Nessun Dorma and other great performances
Luciano Pavarotti Nessun Dorma
Trembol | Story behind Nessun Dorma
I guess that, like me, listening to Nessun Dorma gives you goose bumps 🐔, especially when the tenor sings: “All’alba vincerò! (At daybreak, I shall conquer!)“. That would be enough, listening to a work and getting excited, it means everything, but in this case, there is so much history behind Nessun Dorma, that knowing it will shake you even more.
Here’s the basic round of questions about Nessun Dorma, Turandot, Giacomo Puccini and Pavarotti:
- First things first, what does Nessun Dorma mean? It means “No one sleep“. For those who like grammar, the more accurate translation, would be “I desire that nobody should sleep” because the verb “Dormire (Sleep)” is conjugated in a type of subjunctive known as ‘congiuntivo essortativo’, as Warwick Thompson explained. Beyond the lexicon, Nessun Dorma represents the victory of love over hate.
- To which work does Nessun Dorma belong? Nessun Dorma is an aria that plays at the beginning of the third and last act of the opera Turandot.
- Who is the author of Turandot? Of course, the music, in part, is by the famous Italian composer Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini, Puccini, for friends 😊 He wrote the libretto (script) together with Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni.
- Who is the other author of Turandot? Yes, music was just partly written by Puccini. The truth is that it is about 95%, but Puccini died in 1924 from throat cancer (he smoked like a cartwright) and left it unfinished. The last 2 scenes of Turandot were finished by Franco Alfano, Italian composer and pianist, under the supervision of the considered greatest conductor of his time and of the 20th century, Arturo Toscanini.
- When, by whom and where was Turandot premiered? Turandot was premiered by conductor Arturo Toscanini at La Scala in Milan (Italy) in 1926 and performed by soprano Rosa Raisa and Spanish tenor Miguel Fleta.
- Who is the most famous tenor to have performed Nessun Dorma? In 1972, Luciano Pavarotti recorded the complete version of Turandot with Joan Sutherland and Montserrat Caballé. It became a total success and an essential part of his repertoire, but that was not the most popular version of Nessun Dorma, but the one performed by Pavarotti himself with Plácido Domingo and José Carreras, Los Tres Tenores (The Three Tenors) singing it together, a real delight!
The funny thing, as seen in the video of their first performance, is that they had not prepared who would sing the finale and Plácido Domingo suggests them how to do it in the middle of the song. It happened this way because that was the first joint performance of The Three Tenors, just before the World Cup final, in Rome. Pavarotti sang Nessun Dorma alone, as planned, but because of the standing ovation, they decided to improvise an encore together and organized it on the fly.
- What is the most famous recording of Nessun Dorma? The BBC used Luciano Pavarotti’s 1972 recording of ‘Nessun Dorma’ to promote their coverage of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, and people went crazy for it. It reached 2nd in the UK singles chart, which is the best a classical recording has ever achieved. In terms of album, The Three Tenors’ live concert “Carreras Domingo Pavarotti In Concert“, became the best-selling classical album of all time.
The story of Nessun Dorma goes much further… who Puccini was, the origin of Turandot and some of the most important performances and recordings, it’s all coming, but first, I’ll share with you a cinematic moment that made me fall in love again with Nessun Dorma.
- It belongs to Alejandro Amenabar’s film, ‘The Sea Inside‘. It sounds when the protagonist, paralyzed from the neck down, dreams that he gets up and goes back. I love it!
Who was Giacomo Puccini?
Puccini was an Italian opera composer born in Lucca on December 22, 1858, considered one of the greatest in history.
He was a visionary because, as happens in cinema, he put music at the service of the show, to thrill the audience to the maximum, as years later Alfred Hitchcock would do, using music to increase the drama. His works are characterized by psychological depth and speed 🐇
- He made his operatic debut with Le Villi, in 1884, although his first successful opera was, Manon Lescaut in 1893, at the age of 35.
Although he mainly composed theatrical music, specifically 12 operas (three in one act composing the Triptych), he also wrote: Mass of Glory, Hymn to Rome, symphonic caprice, symphonic preludes and minuets for string quartet.
All these works, except his last opera, Turandot, were composed in a room with doors and windows closed. He liked leaving the place where he worked without light, so he could concentrate more.
Besides music, his other passion was cars, he had several, and in fact he was the one who requested the construction of the first Italian off-road car, because he wanted a vehicle that could move better in the mountains.
- He used these cars in the tours he made around the world, since he tried to go everywhere where his works were performed.
Mixing German and Italian operatic techniques, he composed wonderful arias. Among the best known: O mio babbino caro, from Gianni Schicchi; Che gelida manina, from La bohème, and, of course, Nessun dorma, from Turandot.
His last opera, Turandot, remained unfinished, as Puccini died of throat cancer from all that smoking 🚬 on November 29, 1924, before finishing the third and last act.
The story of Turandot | From the Persian Empire to Puccini
Turandot is a Persian word that means ‘The daughter of the Turan‘. The Turan is a region of Central Asia that belonged to the Persian Empire.
The history of Turandot begins between the year 1141 and 1209, the time when the greatest romantic epic poet of Persian literature, Nezamí Ganyaví 📜, lived. Nezāmi writes a series of epic poems called ‘The Seven Beauties’ or ‘The Seven Princesses‘, telling the story of 7 princesses coming from different places of the Persian Empire: Egypt, China, Russia, Greece, Turkey, India, Central Asia. The Russian princess could not find any man worthy of her. To solve this problem, she had no other idea than to lock herself in a fortress, declaring that she would marry the man who would find her and solve a series of riddles. Besides, she had a trick, the door of the fortress had mysterious swords that decapitated anyone who approached.
We move to the period between 1653 and 1713, in which a French antiquarian expert in oriental themes named François de la Croix, translates and adapts oriental tales in a book called ‘The Thousand and One Days‘. One of them was the story of the Russian princess, although he changed her nationality, turning her into Turandokht, a cold and cruel Chinese princess. He also changed the story as follows:
Princess Turandokht, in revenge for a sullied ancestress, beheads her suitors if they do not answer three riddles. A prince named Calaf applies by answering the three riddles and challenging her to be the one to find out his name. Turandot orders that no one sleeps in Peking until the name of the daring suitor is known.
But this is not all, a few years later Carlo Gozzi (1720 to 1806), adapts in verse ten theatrical fables (fiabe teatrali), one of them being Turandot. It contained 5 acts and had the format of a tragicomedy, introducing new characters such as Pantalone, Tartaglia, Brighella and Truffaldino. A few years later, the German playwrights Goethe and Schiller would recreate the work.
Already in the twentieth century, the curious combination of the characters and the haughty and bloodthirsty princess Turandot thrilled Puccini, who would begin work on the opera between late 1920 and early 1921, along with librettists Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni would write the libretto, adding the ministers Ping, Pang and Pong as narrators of the story ⛩️
- Puccini was hesitant abou the music to use at the end, which was an unexpected happy ending. He worked for a whole year on it but didn’t managing to finish it.
In March 1924, he had completed the opera up to the final duet. A happy ending in such a sadistic work was not quite fitting. While he was still working on the ending, he died in November of that year, leaving only 36 pages with sketches of the ending of Turandot.
- Puccini left instructions for Riccardo Zandonai to finish the opera, however, his son Tonio decided that Franco Alfano should finish it with the supervision of Arturo Toscanini.
On the night of the premiere, Toscanini himself, who was conducting the orchestra, interrupted the performance where Puccini had left the composition, when the character named Liu dies. At that moment Toscanini turns to the audience and says: “Here ends the opera, because in this place the Maestro died” 🎼.
- The complete version began to be performed from the second night.
- In 2001, Luciano Berio, an Italian modernist composer, based on Puccini’s libretto and sketches, composed a new ending.
What is the plot of Turandot?
Turandot is divided into 3 Acts:
🎭 Act I: We begin in Peking, where it is proclaimed that Princess Turandot will marry the prince who answers three riddles, failing which the suitor will die.
At that moment, Timur, the exiled Tartar king, who is now an old man, arrives in the city accompanied by a former slave who guides him, Liú. He stumbles and a stranger helps him up, it is Calaf, his son, the Tatar prince 🤴
When Calaf sees Turandot he is smitten by her beauty and decides to try his luck to win her heart, despite Liú’s insistence that he should not do so and even the emperor’s three ministers, Ping, Pang and Pong, who tell him not to risk his life.
🎭 Act II: Turandot explains the reason for her riddles. Her ancestress, Princess Lou-Ling, was raped by a foreigner and left for dead, she wishes to avenge her. She then enunciates the riddles:
- Into the dark night flies an iridescent ghost. It soars and spreads its wings over the black and infinite humanity. All the world invokes it and all the world implores it, but the ghost disappears with the dawn to be reborn in the heart. And every night it is born and every day it dies. The prince is right in answering: “hope”.
- It arises like a flame, and it is not a flame. It is sometimes delirium. It is a fever of impetus and ardor. Inertia turns it into languor. If you lose it or die, it cools. If you long for conquest, it swells. It has a voice, which you hear throbbing, and from the sunset, the vivid glow. Calaf is also right in answering “the blood”.
- Ice that inflames you and with your fire it freezes even more. Candid and dark. If it wants you free, it makes you a slave. If he accepts you as a slave, he makes you king. The prince hesitates, but answers correctly: “Turandot”.
Everyone celebrates, except the princess. Then the prince proposes a new riddle: if she guesses his name before dawn, he will die 💀
🎭 Act III: Turandot orders the death penalty for anyone who could know the prince’s name and not tell it immediately. Guards go around Peking telling no one to sleep. The prince then sings the opera’s most famous aria, Nessun Dorma (“No one sleep”).
Turandot and the executioner torture Liú to get the prince’s name out of her, but she does not surrender because of her love for him, and commits suicide. Calaf cannot understand Turandot’s coldness and throws it in her face. The conversation ends with the prince kissing her and her surrendering to him. At that moment the prince confesses to her his name, “Calaf”.
The time ends and the emperor asks Turandot to say the name, answering: “LOVE”. She is right, because Calaf’s test was just that, to be called not by his name, but the “love” of her life. People burst into joy.
You can’t miss ⭐️ The best parts of Nessun Dorma
1. At the beginning there is already a first splendorous moment when he sings ‘Quando la luce splenderà‘
2. The choir comes in whispering and the tenor breaks it up by asking for the night to end.
3. The legendary finale. All the hairs stand on end… Vincerò! (I shall conquer!)
This is what it says | Nessun Dorma Lyrics in English
ORIGINAL NESSUN DORMA LYRICS (ITALIAN)
Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o Principessa,
Nella tua fredda stanza
Guardi le stelle
Che tremano d’amore e di speranza.
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!…
Il nome suo nessun saprà…
E noi dovremo, ahimè, morir, morir!…
Dilegua, o notte!… Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle!…
NESSUN DORMA LYRICS IN ENGLISH
No one sleeps, no one sleeps…
Even you, oh Princess,
In your cold room,
Watch the stars,
That tremble with love
And with hope.
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.
No one will know his name
And we must, alas, die.
Vanish, o night! Hide, you stars! Hide, you stars!
At daybreak, I shall conquer!
I shall conquer! I shall conquer!
Did you know?
Turandot is one of the most popular operas being among the 15 most performed worldwide each year, although it appears after other Puccini operas such as La Bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly. This is because it is one of the most difficult roles for a soprano to perform.
Until 1990 China banned the performance of Turandot, because it considered it belittled the Chinese.
At Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium, Nessun Dorma has been playing before every match since 2011.
Much more | Special versions of Nessun Dorma
Aretha Franklin Nessun Dorma
There are many non-classical or partially classical artists who have sung Nessun Dorma. The best versions of Nessun Dorma are:
- The great Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli sings it in almost all his recitals to enormous success.
- Aretha Franklin performed her own version in English at the 1998 Grammy ceremony as an unexpected replacement for Pavarotti.
- Pavarotti sang it in 2001 and 2003 with Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan in his Pavarotti & Friends concert.
- The great British artist Sarah Brightman also gave a magnificent interpretation on 2 of her albums.
- Likewise, the heirs of The Three Tenors, saving the distances, the Italian group Il Volo, sang it in 2016 in a tribute to them led by Plácido Domingo.
Other versions that you should know are the Italian singer Mina, the heavy metal version of Manowar, an English version called “Bridge to heaven”, the one by the contestant who won the British Got Talent, Paul Potts, or the great Spanish singer Monica Naranjo.
Technical Note about Turandot
🎼 Although everyone looks at Nessun Dorma, there is another fantastic tenor aria in Turandot, ‘Non piangere Liú’. If we are talking about the female side, one of the most difficult parts of the opera is in the second act, ‘In questa reggia’. It demands some overtones that combined with the dramatism of the piece, make it very complicated.
🥁 Puccini takes advantage of the oriental theme to explore the timbral possibilities of his orchestra to the maximum. In addition to being Turandot written for a large orchestra, he incorporates atypical instruments such as: marimba, glockenspiel, tam-tam, gongs, tubular bells, cymbals or chimes. With them he builds melodies with the pentatonic scale.
🎭 From the point of view of the characters, each one has a personal music, such as the comic elements that accompany the ministers Ping, Pang and Pong, the lyrical one of I or the heroic one of I. These elements at times take the form of Leitmotif.
🏅 Finally we have to highlight the wonderful choir, the way it contributes to the plot is incredible, always in favor of the action.
Pavarotti Nessun Dorma and other great performances
First performed by soprano Rosa Raisa and Spanish tenor Miguel Fleta in 1926, the list of tenors who have interpreted this famous Aira is incredible.
Among the first to do so we find: Giacomo Lauri-Volpi. It is said that Giacomo Puccini wrote this opera with a voice like Giacomo Lauri-Volpi’s in mind, who gave majestic performances of Turandot, including the night in 1972 when at the age of 79 he sang Nessun Dorma at the Gran Teatro del Liceo 🏛️.
- Other tenors of the time who sang Nessun Dorma were: Antonio Cortis, Roberto Quilodran Jara, Beniamino Gigli and Francesco Merli. Francesco was the first to perform the complete opera in 1938 in Turin under the baton of Franco Ghione.
Among the greatest interpreters of the difficult role of the ice princess are: Rosa Raisa, Claudia Muzio, Maria Jeritza, Eva Turner, Gina Cigna, Inge Borkh, Gertrud Grob-Prandl and Maria Callas.
- Maria Callas’ 1957 performance at La Scala in Milan with Tullio Serafin conducting her and Eugenio Fernandi as Calaf, was magnificent.
One of the most acclaimed versions is that of the Swedish tenor Jussi Björling in 1959 at the Rome Opera House conducted by Erich Leinsdorf and with the great Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson, even though Jussi is a lyric tenor, while Nessun Dorma was intended for a dramatic tenor.
That change made other tenors also make their own version of Nessun Dorma. Among them: Mario del Monaco, Richard Tucker, Mario Lanza, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Carlo Bergonzi, and especially Franco Corelli, considered by many, the best interpretation of Nessun Dorma.
- Franco Corelli would record Turandot in 1965 at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma conducted by Francesco Molinari-Pradelli. Corelli’s performance with Birgit Nilsson at the MET was one of the theater’s main attractions in the 1970s.
In the role of Princess Turnadot also stand out the English Amy Shuard, Rita Hunter and Jane Eaglen, the Hungarian Eva Marton, the Bulgarian Ghena Dimitrova.
Luciano Pavarotti would record his first complete version of the opera with Joan Sutherland and Montserrat Caballé in 1972, conducted by the great Zubin Mehta.
- Although it was a great success, he did not sing many times the whole opera because his voice was too lyrical and could be damaged 😲
- Even so, Nessun Dorma became a major part of his repertoire, as his star aria.
- So much so that he sang it in her last performance at the opening ceremony of the Turin Winter Olympics in 2006, where he received one of the biggest ovations of his career.
More recent are the interpretations of José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, both with soprano Katia Ricciarelli and the Vienna State Opera Choir, in 1984 and 1981 respectively.
- Other great tenors singing Nessun Dorma have been: Jaume Aragall, René Kollo, Nicola Martinucci, Giuseppe Giacomini, Pedro Lavirgen, Ermanno Mauro, Ben Heppner, Sergei Larin, Johan Bota, Darío Volonté, Carlos Simón, Marcelo Álvarez or José Cura.
The most famous interpretation of Nessun Dorma is the one performed at the end of the concert of The Three Tenors (Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras) where all 3 sang it at the same time.