Monday, July 21, 2008

Nessun Dorma

I wanted to write a follow-up on a movie I had posted on previously, "The Sea Inside". As I was writing about "The Sea Inside", Amy (who is much more musically inclined than I) pointed out to me the significance of the song playing during the dream sequence. The song (or aria, to be more precise) is entitled Nessun Dorma or None Shall Sleep. It's from the final act of Giacomo Puccini's opera Turandot.

Here's the plot in a nutshell. Turandot is a princess in ancient China who challenges her suitors with three riddles. If they can answer, they win her hand. If not, they are beheaded. The Prince of Tartary falls for Turandot and correctly answers all three of the riddles. Turandot is very upset that he has succeeded, so the Prince gives her an out. If she can guess his name by morning, he will be put to death. If she can't guess, she will have to marry him. The Princess declares, "This night, none shall sleep in Peking! The penalty for all will be death if the Prince's name is not discovered by morning." The song is Nessun Dorma is sung by the Prince awaiting the morning.





Below is Luciano Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma. In 1990, Pavarotti's version of this song actually hit #2 on the UK Singles Chart, which is said to be the highest ever achieved by a classical recording. (Songs that made it up to #1 on UK charts that year included Ice Ice Baby, Turtle Power, and Hangin' Tough. Hard competition for Nessun Dorma.)







Puccini died from complications of throat cancer prior to finishing the opera and it had to be finished to by one of his contemporaries, Franco Alfano. Although Alfano did have some of Puccini's sketches to work from, no one knows exactly how Puccini would have ended the opera. There have been a couple different reworkings of the ending since that time.

I recently heard (thank you NPR) that the ending was going to be rewritten again. Apparently, the opera Turandot was never played in China as they believed the blood thirsty Chinese princess cast a bad light on the country. To celebrate the opening of the National Center for Performing Arts in Beijing, a Chinese composer, Hao Weiya, was hired to rewrite the end of Turandot. It seems to have been met with some mixed reviews.

Here is the common translation of Nessun Dorma.

No one sleeps, no one sleeps
Even you, o 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!
Set, stars!
At daybreak, I shall conquer!

As the Prince stays awake all night, he awaits a morning that might bring his own death or the fulfilment of his dream (desire) to be with the Princess Turandot. Ramon Sampedro felt that he was being denied "sleep", but in his case, it was the sleep itself he desired. What an appropriate choice of music!

7 Responses to “Nessun Dorma”

Bruce said...
July 24, 2008 at 2:57 PM

Not certain what this means, but all of the three artists in this video had cancer. Composer Puccini - throat, Tenor Pavarotti - pancreatic, Maestro Levine - renal. Opera is dangerous!


Amber Wollesen, MD said...
July 25, 2008 at 8:53 AM

I never put that together. Very interesting. Thanks for your comment Bruce.


ChrisO said...
August 26, 2008 at 10:19 AM

Hello Amber
This is a wonderful blog; thank you. Knowing the meaning of Nessun Dorma makes the opera that much more beautiful.

I live in San Francisco, and there is a local singing group called the Threshold Choir who gather and sing to the dying. Their sit is Thresholdchoir.org, and here is a good audio story about them: http://weblog.signonsandiego.com/multimedia/archives/007906.html


Amber Wollesen, MD said...
August 26, 2008 at 6:25 PM

Chriso, Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
February 13, 2011 at 5:56 PM

Just saw on the Grammy's tonight a montage with Aretha Franklin, and she was singing Nessun Dorma (in 1998). Wouldn't have recognized it unless I had read this post. Thanks Amber!


ChrisO said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM

Hello Amber
This is a wonderful blog; thank you. Knowing the meaning of Nessun Dorma makes the opera that much more beautiful.

I live in San Francisco, and there is a local singing group called the Threshold Choir who gather and sing to the dying. Their sit is Thresholdchoir.org, and here is a good audio story about them: http://weblog.signonsandiego.com/multimedia/archives/007906.html


Amber Wollesen, MD said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM

Chriso, Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.