"Nessun dorma" (English: "None shall sleep") is an aria from the final act of Giacomo Puccini's frequently performed opera Turandot and is one of the best-known tenor arias in all opera. It is sung by Calaf, il principe ignoto (the unknown prince), who falls in love at first sight with the beautiful but cold Princess Turandot. However, any man who wishes to wed Turandot must first answer her three riddles; if he fails, he will be beheaded. In the aria, Calaf expresses his triumphant assurance that he will win the princess.
Although "Nessun dorma" has long been a staple of operatic recitals, Luciano Pavarotti popularized the piece beyond the opera world in the 1990s. Both Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo released singles of the aria that charted in the United Kingdom, and it appeared on the best selling classical album of all time, The Three Tenors in Concert. Since that time, many crossover artists have performed and recorded it. It has also frequently appeared in movies and on television. Unusually for a classical piece, it has become a part of popular culture.
Context and analysis
In the act before this aria, Calaf has correctly answered the three riddles put to all of Princess Turandot's prospective suitors. Nonetheless, she recoils at the thought of marriage to him. Calaf offers her another chance by challenging her to guess his name by dawn. (As he kneels before her, the Nessun dorma theme makes a first appearance, to his words, "Il mio nome non sai!") If she does so, she can execute him; but if she does not, she must marry him. The cruel and emotionally cold princess then decrees that none of her subjects shall sleep that night until his name is discovered. If they fail, all will be killed.
As the final act opens, it is now night. Calaf is alone in the moonlit palace gardens. In the distance, he hears Turandot's heralds proclaiming her command. His aria begins with an echo of their cry and a reflection on Princess Turandot:
Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o Principessa,
nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle
che tremano d'amore, e di speranza!
None shall sleep! None shall sleep!
Even you, O Princess,
in your cold bedroom,
watch the stars
that tremble with love and with hope!
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me;
il nome mio nessun saprà!
No, No! Sulla tua bocca
lo dirò quando la luce splenderà!
But my secret is hidden within me;
none will know my name!
No, no! On your mouth
I will say it when the light shines!
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà
il silenzio che ti fa mia!
And my kiss will dissolve
the silence that makes you mine!
Just before the climactic end of the aria, a chorus of women is heard singing in the distance:
Il nome suo nessun saprà,
E noi dovrem, ahimè, morir, morir!
No one will know his name,
and we will have to, alas, die, die!
Calaf, now certain of victory, sings:
Dilegua, o notte!
Vanish, o night!
Fade, you stars!
Fade, you stars!
At dawn, I will win!
I will win! I will win!
In performance, the final "Vincerò!" features a sustained B4, followed by the final note, an A4 sustained even longer—although Puccini's score did not explicitly specify that either note be sustained. In the original score, the B is written as an eighth note while the A is a whole note. Both are high notes in the tenor range. The only recording to follow Puccini's score exactly was the very first, sung by Gina Cigna and Francesco Merli, conducted by Franco Ghione.
In Alfano's completion of act 3, the "Nessun dorma" theme makes a final triumphal appearance at the end of the opera. The theme also makes a concluding reappearance in Luciano Berio's later completion (this having been an expressed intention of Puccini's), but in a more subdued orchestration.
Nessun dorma sung by some of the most famous interpreters of Calaf appear on the following compilation recordings. (For full-length recordings of the opera, see Turandot discography.)
- The Very Best of Beniamino Gigli (EMI Classics)
- The Very Best of Jussi Björling (EMI Classics)
- Richard Tucker in Recital (Columbia Masterworks/Myto)
- The Very Best of Franco Corelli (EMI Classics)
- Pavarotti Forever (Decca)
- The Essential Plácido Domingo (Deutsche Grammophon)
Cultural references and adaptations
"Nessun dorma" achieved pop status after Luciano Pavarotti's 1972 recording of it was used as the theme song of BBC television's coverage of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. It subsequently reached #2 on the UK Singles Chart. Although Pavarotti rarely sang the role of Calaf on stage, Nessun dorma became his signature aria and a sporting anthem in its own right, especially for football. Pavarotti notably sang the aria during the first Three Tenors concert on the eve of the 1990 World Cup final. For an encore, he performed the aria again, taking turns with José Carreras and Plácido Domingo (himself a popular Calaf at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Royal Opera House, Liceu, Arena di Verona, and Teatro Real). The album of the concert achieved triple platinum record status in the United States alone and went on to outsell all other classical recordings worldwide. The number became a regular feature of subsequent Three Tenors concerts.
Pavarotti gave a rendition of "Nessun dorma" at his final performance, the finale of the Opening Ceremony of the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, although it was later revealed that he had lip-synched the specially pre-recorded performance (at the time of his Winter Olympics appearance Pavarotti was physically incapable of performing as he was suffering from pancreatic cancer to which he succumbed the year following). His Decca recording of the aria was played at his funeral during the flypast by the Italian Air Force. In 2013, the track was certified gold by the Federation of the Italian Music Industry.
Crossover and adapted versions
"Nessun dorma" (often in adapted versions of the score) as has been performed by many pop and crossover singers and instrumentalists.
- In what the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences called "the greatest last-second substitution act in Grammy history", Aretha Franklin sang a "soul-infused" version of the aria in place of Luciano Pavarotti when throat problems caused him to withdraw from the 40th Annual Grammy Awards show.
- Antony Hegarty, lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons, recorded the aria with the Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra, as part of an advertising campaign for the Italian coffee company Lavazza in 2009.
- Jeff Beck's 2010 album, Emotion & Commotion, includes an instrumental version of this aria where the guitar takes the place of the human voice to an orchestral accompaniment.
- In 2007, trumpeter Chris Botti covered "Nessun dorma" on his album Italia.
- The 1989 song "A Love So Beautiful", co-written by Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne, borrows the aria's melody.
- The 2002 album Warriors of the World by the band Manowar features a heavy metal version of the aria. The band also played it in their live shows in Italy.
In other media
Nessun dorma has been used in many films, often appearing at a central moment in the film—sometimes with the aria's moment of musical resolution aligned with the film's narrative climax, giving symbolic meaning to the aria's rich emotional impact. Films in which the aria plays a significant role in the soundtrack include The Killing Fields, New York Stories, Mar adentro, The Sum of All Fears, The Mirror Has Two Faces, Bend It Like Beckham, and was sung by Pavarotti himself as part of his fictional role in Yes, Giorgio.
Nessun Dorma is also the title of a short film by Ken Russell included in the 1987 film Aria. (Aria consists of ten segments by a variety of directors; each one features the director's visual accompaniment to arias and scenes from operas. The films have minimal or no dialogue, with most of the spoken content coming from the words of the aria itself.)
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None shall sleep tonight!
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