Donna Donna (דאַנאַ דאַנאַ "Dana Dana", also known as דאָס קעלבל "Dos Kelbl" — The Calf) is a Yiddish theater song about a calf being led to slaughter. Some believe the song's title is a variant on Adonai, a Jewish name for God, but native Yiddish speakers would agree that both religiously and linguistically, such an idea is unfounded and that this idea is a Christian reinterpretation of the song.
Dana Dana was written for the Aaron Zeitlin stage production Esterke (1940–41) with music composed by Sholom Secunda. The lyrics, score, parts, and associated material are available online in the Yiddish Theater Digital Archives. The lyric sheet is in typewritten Yiddish and handwritten Yiddish lyrics also appear in the piano score. The text underlay in the score and parts is otherwise romanized in a phonetic transcription that appears oriented toward stage German. The YIVO standardized transliteration system was not then in widespread use, and many Yiddish transliterations looked like German, to which the Yiddish language is closely related.
The orchestra plays the Dana Dana melody at several points in Esterke. The original is 2/4, in G minor for a duo of a man and a woman, choral with the orchestral accompaniment. Secunda wrote "Dana-" for the orchestral score and "Dana Dana" for the vocal scores. The Yiddish text was written with Roman alphabet. He wrote for the choral score "andantino" (somewhat slowly) and "sempre staccato" (play staccato always). The melody of the introduction was also used at the end of the song. He wrote "piu mosso" (more rapidly) for the refrain and some passages that emphasize the winds. First, a woman (Secunda wrote "she") sings four bars and then the man (Secunda wrote "he") sings the next four. They sing together from the refrain. Although singing the third part of "Dana Dana" (="Dana Dana Dana Dana...") the man sometimes sings lower than the melody using disjunct motions. The melody is refrained. Then "he" sings the melody, and "she" sometimes sings "Dana", other times sings "Ah" with a high voice or technical passage. Secunda wrote "molto rit." (suddenly much more slowly) for the ending of the first verse. There are some difference between the original and the melody that are well known. Secunda wrote "ha ha ha" for the choral score with the broken chords.
Secunda translated Dana Dana into English (changing the vocalization of dana to dona), but this version failed to gain popularity. The lyrics were translated again in the mid-1950s by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz, and the song became well known with their text. It became especially popular after being recorded by Joan Baez in 1960, Donovan in 1965 and Patty Duke in 1968.
Dana Dana has been translated into and recorded in many other languages including German, French, Japanese, Hebrew, Russian, and Vietnamese. It has been sung by performers including Nechama Hendel, André Zweig, Chava Alberstein, Esther Ofarim, Theodore Bikel, Karsten Troyke, Sumi Jo, Claude François, Hélène Rollès together with Dorothée, and Moni Ovadia.
In popular culture
- In Ghost in the Shell SAC episode 16 the Tachikomas are heard singing the song "Donna Donna" as they are being led away supposedly to be dismantled (but on the DVD release they sing Akai Kutsu for copyright reasons).
- In the 16th Episode of Revolutionary Girl Utena this song is also heard.
- Soe Hok Gie, an Indonesian activist quotes the English lyric in his diary. "Donna Donna" is also sung by a female character in the Indonesian movie, Gie, an adaptation of Gie's diary.
- The song has been covered several times, among others by Joan Baez, Los Speakers, Donovan, Claude François, Mary Hopkin, Hélène et Dorothée, Nechama Hendel, Chava Alberstein, Lisa Fishman, and Esther & Abi Ofarim.
- In The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya after noting how Mikuru Asahina had the look of "a calf about to be loaded onto a truck", Kyon told the reader that he had to refrain from "bursting into a chorus of 'Donna Donna'..."
- In Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl, Yamada sings this song in the bathroom