La donna è mobile

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"La donna è mobile" (Italian pronunciation: [la ˈdɔnna ɛ ˈmɔːbile], The woman is fickle) is the Duke of Mantua's canzone from the beginning of act 3 of Giuseppe Verdi's opera Rigoletto (1851). The inherent irony is that the Duke, a callous playboy, is the one who is mobile ("inconstant"). Its reprise towards the end of the opera is chilling, as Rigoletto realizes from the sound of the Duke's lively voice coming from within the tavern (offstage), that the body in the sack over which he has grimly triumphed is not that of the Duke after all: Rigoletto had paid Sparafucile, an assassin, to kill the Duke but Sparafucile deceived him by killing Gilda, Rigoletto's beloved daughter, instead.

The canzone is famous as a showcase for tenors. Raffaele Mirate's performance of the bravura aria at the opera's 1851 premiere was hailed as the highlight of the evening. Before its first public performance (in Venice), it was rehearsed under tight secrecy:[1] a necessary precaution, because it proved to be catchy and soon after its first public performance every gondolier in Venice was singing it.

The music[edit]

Theme
Performed by Enrico Caruso in 1908

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The almost comical-sounding theme of "La donna è mobile" is introduced immediately, and runs as illustrated (transposed from the original key of B major). The theme is repeated several times in the approximately two minutes it takes to perform the aria, but with the important—and obvious—omission of the last bar. This has the effect of driving the music forward as it creates the impression of being incomplete and unresolved, which it is, ending not on the tonic or dominant but on the submediant. Once the Duke has finished singing, however, the theme is once again repeated; but this time it includes the last, and conclusive, bar and finally resolving to the tonic. The song is strophic in form with an orchestral ritornello.

Libretto[edit]

Italian Prosaic translation Poetic translation

1. La donna è mobile
Qual piuma al vento,
muta d'accento
e di pensiero.

Sempre un amabile,
leggiadro viso,
in pianto o in riso,
è menzognero.


Refrain
La donna è mobil'.
Qual piuma al vento,
muta d'accento
e di pensier'!

2. È sempre misero
chi a lei s'affida,
chi le confida
mal cauto il cuore!

Pur mai non sentesi
felice appieno
chi su quel seno
non liba amore!


Refrain
La donna è mobil'
Qual piuma al vento,
muta d'accento
e di pensier'!
[2]

Woman is flighty.
Like a feather in the wind,
she changes in voice
and in thought.

Always a lovely,
pretty face,
in tears or in laughter,
it's untrue.

Refrain
Woman is flighty.
like a feather in the wind,
she changes in voice
and in thought!

Always miserable
is he who trusts her,
he who confides in her
his unwary heart!

Yet one never feels
fully happy
who from that bosom
does not drink love!

Refrain
Woman is flighty.
Like a feather in the wind,
she changes her words,
and her thoughts![3]

Plume in the summerwind
Waywardly playing
Ne'er one way swaying
Each whim obeying;

Thus heart of womankind
Ev'ry way bendeth,
Woe who dependeth
On joy she spendeth!

Refrain
Yes, heart of woman
Ev'ry way bendeth
Woe who dependeth
On joy she spends.

Sorrow and misery
Follow her smiling,
Fond hearts beguiling,
falsehood assoiling!

Yet all felicity
Is her bestowing,
No joy worth knowing
Is there but wooing.

Refrain
Yes, heart of woman
Ev'ry way bendeth
Woe who dependeth
On joy she spends.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the 1932 movie A Farewell to Arms, a background soldier sings this as a woman is wooed, sequentially, by two men outside in a garden.
  • In Disney's 1990 short "The Prince and the Pauper"[clarification needed]
  • In the film 1992, "The Perfect Husband"
  • The canzone is sung to unsettling effect by the character Richard Benning in Ambrose Bierce's 1893 short story An Adventure at Brownville, including after the suicide of one of Benning's wards.
  • In the 2000 film The Family Man, Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) gets dressed and heads out to work while singing this song.
  • In an episode of M*A*S*H, B.J. Hunnicutt sings his version of the song while in the shower.
  • In the 2004 movie The Punisher, a fight scene between Thomas Jane (The Punisher) and Kevin Nash (The Russian) occurs while the song plays and his apartment neighbors sing and dance to the song.
  • The first verse of the song is featured in Rugrats in Paris: The Movie.
  • In the South Park episode "Quintuplets 2000", Kenny sings the canzone while making money for his singing training in Europe.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy", the holographic doctor sings the first verse while daydreaming that he is in recital for the crew. He "improvises" humorous lyrics to the canzone to trick Tuvok, who is experiencing pon farr, into receiving a medicinal sedative.
  • In Chekhov's 'Three Sisters' Doctor Chebutykin sings snippets throughout.
  • In the video game Grand Theft Auto III this song can be heard on the Double Clef FM radio station.
  • In the Futurama episode "The 30% Iron Chef", Elzar makes a working pastry replica of downtown Venice. In the model a shrimp rows a gondola down a canal while singing the song.
  • In the episode of The Simpsons titled The Last of the Red Hat Mamas Lisa sings the song with new lyrics.
  • In an episode of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Zimbo and the Snorch torture Ickis, Krumm and Oblina by singing this song during the closing credits.
  • In the 1999 film My Favorite Martian Martin the Martian sings the song while in a hot tub.
  • Many football crowd chants/songs are to this tune.
  • The Hall Song of Chancellor Hall, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus in Jamaica, is set to the song's tune.
  • In an episode of "Figure it Out — Family Style" (1998–1999), a contestant with the secret "Self Taught Opera Soloist," sings the song as his featured song upon the panel figuring his secret out, while his father helped him out.
  • In "Queer as Folk", Season 3, Ted gets a job as a singing waiter and is embarrassed when his friends show up at the restaurant as he is singing this song.
  • In an episode of Dark Angel, a tall prisoner sings this song in the yard to distract the guards while Max escapes.
  • In the film Hannibal Brooks, Oliver Reed (Brooks) distracts German soldiers by drunkenly singing 'Der Schnapps ist gut, mein Herr' to this melody, in order to make his escape.
  • In the film My Mom's New Boyfriend, the Italian Chef Enrico sings the song while drunkenly serenading Meg Ryan's character near the end of the movie. Ryan's kidnappers comment on his good singing.
  • "The Maestro" is an episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld (aired 6 October 1995; episode 113, third episode of season #7). Elaine sings this canzone as she drives away with "the Maestro".
  • In the "Elmo's World" segment of an episode of Sesame Street, Elmo, dressed as a horse, is onstage. He starts singing La donna è mobile, but his voice is raspy, and when he stops, he gives the pun "I'm a little hoarse (horse)." Mr Noodle in "Singing" lip syncs the song.
  • In a Weekend Update sketch on Saturday Night Live, Opera Man (played by Adam Sandler) sang the song as a parody of a woman in the news.
  • At the start of the first episode of the Doctor Who story "Doctor Who and the Silurians," the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) attempts to sing the aria while performing repairs on his new antique car Bessie, but can only sing the first line and hums the rest.
  • In the 2009 video game Little King's Story, an edited version of the song plays while in the area named "The Ripe Kingdom" before that kingdom is conquered.
  • In the television series I Dream of Jeannie, in the episode "My Master, The Great Caruso" (1966) Major Nelson sings the song using several different Jeannie-modified voices, including a soprano, a basso profondo, a lounge singer, and Betty Boop.
  • In a story from My Friends Tigger & Pooh titled "Symphony for a Rabbit," Rabbit performs an ode to vegetables set to this tune.
  • An abridged version was performed by burlesque opera singer Prince Poppycock for the Las Vegas auditions of the 5th season of America's Got Talent.
  • In the animated series The Tick episode "Bloomsday", The Tick sings to calm the 400 year bloom while battling El Seed.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Downes, Olin (1918). The Lure of Music: Depicting the Human Side of Great Composers. Kessinger. p. 38. 
  2. ^ a b Piave, Francesco Maria; Verdi, Giuseppe (c. 1930). Rigoletto, piano vocal score, Italian/English. translated by Natalia MacFarren. New York: G. Schirmer Inc. pp. 173ff. 
  3. ^ "La donna è mobile", translated by Randy Garrou, Aria Database