Santa Lucia is a traditional Neapolitan song. It was transcribed by Teodoro Cottrau (1827–1879) and published by the Cottrau firm, as a "barcarolla", at Naples in 1849. Cottrau translated it from Napuletano into Italian during the first stage of the Risorgimento, the first Neapolitan song to be given Italian lyrics. Its transcriber, who is very often credited as its composer, was the son of the French-born Italian composer and collector of songs Guillaume Louis Cottrau (1797–1847).
The Neapolitan lyrics of "Santa Lucia" celebrate the picturesque waterfront district, Borgo Santa Lucia, in the Bay of Naples, in the invitation of a boatman to take a turn in his boat, to better enjoy the cool of the evening.
In the United States, an early edition of the song, with an English translation by Thomas Oliphant, was published by M. McCaffrey, Baltimore. Perhaps the definitive 20th century recording of the song was that of Enrico Caruso, the great Neapolitan opera singer.
In Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, and Norway, "Santa Lucia" has been given various lyrics to accommodate it to the winter-light festival of Saint Lucy, at the darkest time of the year. The three most famous lyrics versions in Swedish are Luciasången, aka Sankta Lucia, ljusklara hägring (“Saint Lucy, bright illusion”), Natten går tunga fjät (“The night walks with heavy steps”) and the 1970s "Kindergarten" version Ute är mörkt och kallt (“Outside it’s dark and cold”). The more common Norwegian version is Svart senker natten seg ("Black the night descends").
Sul mare luccica l’astro d’argento.
On the sea glitters the silver star
Sergio Franchi, (Italian Tenor 1926-1990), recorded this song in 1963 on his RCA Victor Red Seal album, Our Man From Italy. One of the notable versions of this song is the one by Hayley Westenra in her album Treasure (Hayley Westenra album).
Use in films and television
The song has been sung in several films. It was performed by Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas, and by Luciano Pavarotti in Yes, Giorgio. It can be heard in the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera. The end of the song is chanted by David Kessler and Jack Goodman as they are walking in the rain in the English countryside in An American Werewolf in London. The song is sung a cappella very briefly in Frostbite.
On television, an off-key rendition by Don Knotts as Barney Fife was performed on The Andy Griffith Show, in the episode "The Song Festers" as the feature song of the Mayberry choir "sent off to New York" for its annual spring concert. In the Hogan's Heroes episode "The Pizza Parlor", Hogan and his team recruit Major Bonacelli to be their contact in Italy. To lure him, they contact Garlotti's Pizzeria in Newark, New Jersey. Garlotti provides the men with a pizza recipe and the words to Santa Lucia which he gladly sings in full voice. In the Tom and Jerry episode "Cat and Dupli-cat," Tom is singing the first verse of this song in the beginning of the cartoon.
Marisol sang "Santa Lucia" in the 1960s Spanish film "Un rayo de luz" (A Ray of Light).
In the third episode of the second season of "Lost in Space," ('The Ghost Planet', 1966), the Robot (Bob May, voice of Dick Tufeld) sings two verses of "Santa Lucia," accompanied by Will Robinson (Billy Mumy). The Robot's voice suddenly drops off at the end of the second stanza, rousing Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) from his daydreams. "You bubble-headed booby! I was about to land on the isle of Capri; now I'll never get there!" Smith exclaims, berating the Robot. The problem, Will explains, is that the Robot's tapes are wearing out. Dick Tufeld did the actual singing on this sequence, as Billy Mumy played his guitar. In real life, Mumy is an accomplished musician.