Opera and Classical Music
For many years, Italian was the standard language of opera, so even Germans wrote operas in Italian. The language is sometimes stilted and poetic (for example, they tend to leave off the final "e" in verbs so that cantare
("to sing") becomes cantar
) but it is nevertheless quite similar to the modern language. Here are some classic, popular songs from opera and other classical music:
One fun way to learn Italian is to learn songs written in Italian; not only is it an effective way of learning, but it also gives you a window on
- La Dona è mobile from Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi - where the Duke of Mantua complains about how women are fickle; Luciano Pavarotti performs an outstanding version of this song. Lyrics and translation.
- Largo al Factotum from Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) by Rossini - known for its "Figaro, figaro, figaro!" patter, in this classic aria Figaro, the eponymous barber of Seville, complains that he is overwhelmed by customers desiring his services, especially when it comes to matchmaking. Lyrics and translation.
- Nessun dorma from Turandot by Giacomo Puccini - nobody sings this tenor showcase like Pavarotti.
- Madamina, il catalogo è questo from Don Giovanni by W. A. Mozart - in this fun "catalogue aria," Leporello lists the exploits of his master, Don Giovanni; see a great version sung by Stefano De Peppo
- Libiam ne' lieti calici from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi - this Brindisi or "Drinking Song" is a classic duet.
- Duettino Sull'Aria from Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) by W. A. Mozart - you may remember this as the song that is played over the prison loudspeakers in The Shawshank Redemption. Ironically, although Morgan Freeman's character says "I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words...", the two women are actually singing about luring a man into a trap to expose his infidelity!
- O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini. Lyrics and translation.
- Con te Partirò - technically not "classical" (it was written in 1995) but popularized by classical tenor Andrea Bocelli, this beautiful love song (lyrics and translation) also has a bilingual English-Italian version called "Time to Say Goodbye." The Spanish-language version, "Por ti Volare," was featured in the movie Stepbrothers.
Traditional and Folk
The following are older, "classic" Italian songs. See this Italian folk music page
for more lyrics.
Rock and Pop Music
The following are more popular songs you might hear on the radio, especially on Kiss Kiss Italia; you can check out which songs are popular in Italy at the Italy Top 20 listing, MTV's Hitlist Italia, or Euro200's Italy Top 50 list. Many lyrics are translated on allthelyrics.com
- Various Artists - Domani 21 Aprile - a benefit song with an all-star lineup produced to aid victims of the 2009 earthquake in Abruzzo. It's like the Italian version of "We are the World". See Deirdre Straughan's great website for lyrics and translation (alternate version here).
- Giorgia - Di sole e d'azzurro - "the sun and blue sky," a beautiful song with a beautiful performance at the 2001 Sanremo festival
- Gianna Nannini - Salvami - a cry for help ("Save me"), this song ranges from low and gravel-y to high and soaring.
- Giusy Ferreri - was the first winner of the Italian version of X Factor (like American Idol), with a low Amy Winehouse-like voice; she has had several hits:
- Noemi - famous for calling Berslusconi her "daddy," leading to speculation that she was his illegitimate daughter
- Luciano Ligabue - a rock guitarist and singer who has some cool tunes
- Zero Assoluto - this duet ("absolute zero"--perhaps they studied physics?) has had a few hits:
- Jovanotti - Lorenzo Cherubini is a rapper/singer with various world influences
- Alessandra Amoroso - Senza Nuvole, a little whiny but catchy
- Alex Britti - Buona Fortuna - a song with a Jazzy beat Lyrics and translation.
- Eros Ramazzotti - Parla Con Me - many of Ramazzotti's songs sound whiny but this one is catchy
- Raf - Per Tutto Il Tempo - fun song with a driving beat, talks about love "for all time"
- Gemelli Diversi - Vivi per un miracolo - the biggest hit from these Italian rappers, with the refrain "c'e l'hai un attimo per me?" ("Do you have a moment for me?")
- Fabrizio Moro - Pensa - an inspiring anti-Mafia song
- Marco Carta - won the 2009 San Remo Festival with the song "La Forza Mia"; he followed that up with the catchy "Dentro ad ogni brivido"
- Marco Mengoni - Dove si vola - another X Factor winner (sounds like a girl!)
- Fiorella Mannoia - Ho Imparato a Sognare - a 2009 cover of a 1997 song by Negrita; an inspirational song, it talks about how "I learned to dream" early in life. (Partial) lyrics and translation.
- Sal da Vinci - Il Mercante di Stelle is a love song with hokey lyrics about a guy giving "the most beautiful stars in the heavens to she who opens her heart to me"...but it will stick in your head forever!
- Ron e Tosca - Vorrei Incontrarti Fra Cent’Anni - a song that reminds me of Extreme's "More than Words"
- Toto Cutugno - L'italiano - a song that won the Sanremo music festival in the 80s, which references various Italian stereotypes
Many of the songs Americans consider to be "Italian" are actually Neapolitan songs, in the distinct Neapolitan language
. The following are some of the most famous Neapolitan songs (Canzoni Napoletane
- 'O Sole Mio - probably the best-known Neapolitan song, whose lyrics are functionally equivalent to the American folk classic, "You are my Sunshine". Check out a Mario Lanza version from the movie "For the first time." Elvis sang a version of 'O Sole Mio with English lyrics, "It's Now or Never."
- Torna a Surriento - this haunting song (lyrics and translation) exhorts one to "Come Back to Sorrento." Elvis did a version of this one, too, called "Surrender."
- Santa Lucia - actually in "standard" Italian (such as this recording by Enrico Caruso; the original Neapolitan version is less well known) this song is about the waterfront near the Castello dell'Ovo, and was actually sung by Elvis in Italian!
- Funiculì Funiculà - a catchy song about going up the funicular which used to run up Vesuvius; a classic version is sung by Mario Lanza. Vesuvioinrete has good lyrics and translation.
- To vuò fà l'americano - this song about how "you want to be American" was originally performed by Renato Carosone, known to Americans after its appearance in The Talented Mr Ripley. More recently, it was sampled in the 2010 hit by Australians Yolanda Be Cool and DCUP, "We No Speak Americano" (music video). Lyrics and translation.
- 'O surdato 'nnammurato - this song about a "soldier in love" was popularized by Massimo Ranieri. Lyrics and translation. (Also at Sound of Thunder)
- Scalinatella - A song about a "little staircase" leading to the water near Posillipo, where a man waits for his lover; Massimo Ranieri sings a haunting version, and Johnny Mathis did an English version called "Stairway to the Sea." Lyrics and translation (halfway down).
- Anema e Core - "Soul and Heart," in which the singer begs his now-distant lover to come close again, explains the joke behind Anema e Cono (a gelateria in Pozzuoli) and Anema e Cozze (a restaurant near Castel dell'Ovo in the Santa Lucia district). Beautiful version by Roberto Murolo. Lyrics and translation.
- Tammuriata Nera - "Black Tambourine Dance," tells the story of a half-Black boy growing up in Naples, whose father was an American GI. The tammuriata is a traditional Southern Italian dance, much like the tarantella ("tarantula dance"). Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare plays this song with a lot of energy.
- Maruzzella - This haunting song, about a man standing on a beach calling after his former lover, Maruzzella, is sung beautifully by Massimo Ranieri. Lyrics and translation.
- A Città 'e Pulecenella - an unofficial anthem for the city (here performed by Sal da Vinci), written by Claudio Mattone, explains "How beautiful is the City of Pulcinella". Lyrics with a translation in (standard) Italian. The lyrics do a great job of describing Naples' 1000 contradictions, such as contrasting the beauty and glory of the city with the disrespectful behavior of "a handful of ruffians" (a veiled reference, I think, to the Camorra), joking that the only time when downtown has no traffic is at 5 AM, and asking whether people disobey laws because "that's how it's always been done" or just to spite them!
- Vesuvio - a more modern Neapolitan song by a group called Spaccanapoli, done in the style of a tammuriata, which was used in an episode of The Sopranos. It talks about the mountain menacing the population around it.
- Core 'ngrato - A song to a former lover about her "ungrateful heart." Lyrics and translation.
- Dicitencello vuje - one of the Neapolitan songs in the Three Tenors' repertoire; see Sound of Thuder's blog post for lyrics, translation, clips, and more (I personally think it sounds a lot like The Godfather Waltz from the movie trilogy)
There are a handful of songs that Americans think of being "Italian" but were actually written by Americans; still, they are still fun (and popular with Italians and Italian Americans alike):