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9 Lines From Famous Operas, Translated

Opera isn’t for everyone. It’s an acquired taste, what with the frequently melodramatic plots — typically in a foreign language — and the over-the-top acting. The music, too, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. All reasons, perhaps, why Mark Twain wasn’t a fan, writing, “I have attended operas, whenever I could not help it, for fourteen years now; I am sure I know of no agony comparable to the listening to an unfamiliar opera.”

Unfamiliarity plays a big part in all this — only a few arias have broken through opera circles into the wider public consciousness, “Nessun dorma” from Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot” being the prime example. People might not recognize the name of a famous operatic piece, but they’ll almost certainly have heard it somewhere before, perhaps in a classic movie or a TV commercial, most often sung by the famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

As for opera’s lyrics, yes, they are largely impenetrable, unless you happen to speak Italian, German, or French (the three languages most common in opera), or have a translation on hand. With that in mind, here are nine translated lines from some of the world’s most famous arias, composed by the likes of Wolfgang Mozart, Giacomo Puccini, and Giuseppe Verdi.

I speak of love while I'm awake, I speak of love while I'm sleeping, to rivers, to the shadows, to mountains, to flowers, to the grass, to fountains, to echoes, to the air, to winds, until they carry away the sound of my useless words.
Non so più cosa son” from Wolfgang Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro”

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Cherubino, a young male page, speaks of his newfound infatuation with the opposite sex in an aria whose title translates as “I don't know what I am anymore” — a classic piece from one of the most famous comic operas.

I lived for art, I lived for love, I never harmed a living soul!
Vissi d'arte” from Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca”

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The opera’s central character, Floria Tosca, sings this line as she laments her fate and what she believes is God’s abandonment of her.

On your mouth, I will tell it, when the light shines. And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!
Nessun dorma” from Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot”

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“Nessun Dorma” became arguably the most popular aria in the world after Luciano Pavarotti performed it at the 1990 World Cup. The performance was seen by millions of viewers, catapulting the song to global fame.

Woman is fickle. Like a feather in the wind, she changes her words and her thoughts!
La donna è mobile” from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto”

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Sung by the licentious Duke of Mantua, this “canzone” (a type of Italian ballad) was so catchy (albeit sexist and misogynistic) that it became the song of choice among Venetian gondoliers — an association it retains to this day.

Hell's vengeance boils in my heart, death and despair blaze about me!
Der Hölle Rache” from Mozart's “The Magic Flute”

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The Queen of the Night is most definitely in a rage when she gives her daughter a knife and tells her to assassinate her rival Sarastro. This aria is most famous for its upper register staccatos, which even the opera-averse will likely recognize.

Pure Goddess, whose silver covers these sacred ancient plants, we turn to your lovely face unclouded and without veil.
Casta diva” from Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma”

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When Norma, the high-priestess of the druids, is asked to declare war on belligerent Rome, she convinces her people that now is not the time to fight. But she has secretly fallen in love with a Roman, and so begs the “Pure Goddess” for peace.

Love is a rebellious bird that nobody can tame, and you call him quite in vain if it suits him not to come.
L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” (also known as “Habanera”) from Georges Bizet's “Carmen”

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This famous aria is the response of the fiery gypsy Carmen to a group of soldiers who begin flirting with her and her companions in the town square.

When I am laid, am laid in earth, may my wrongs create no trouble, no trouble in thy breast. Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
When I am laid in earth” (or “Dido’s lament”) from Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas”

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This heartrending aria is sung by Dido as she watches her lover Aeneas sail away. The opera is based on Virgil’s Latin epic poem, the Aeneid.

Come, Mallika, the flowering lianas already cast their shadow on the sacred stream which flows, calm and dark, awakened by the song of rowdy birds.
Flower Duet” from Léo Delibes’ “Lakmé”

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This beautiful duet is sung by the characters of Lakmé and her servant Mallika as they pick flowers by a river. If it sounds familiar, that might be because it’s been used in many advertisements and films, including Meet the Parents and True Romance.

Photo credit: Shifaaz shamoon/ Unsplash

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About the Author
Tony Dunnell
Tony is an English writer of non-fiction and fiction living on the edge of the Amazon jungle.
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