Friday, October 30, 2009

Nessun Dorma

Possibly one of the most famous arias ever, "Nessun Dorma" (meaning "None shall sleep"), is taken from the Puccini opera "Turandot." 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.*

"None shall sleep" is also the motto of anyone who burns the midnight oil working, such as myself and other agents of darkness, who will also be beheaded if they do not meet their deadlines.

Ironically, opera tends to put most people to sleep instead of keeping them awake. Anyone who's suffered through an entire Wagnerian opus can attest to that. And there's no two ways about it: opera is a construct of the elite, and therefore can be very pretentious and intimidating.

It doesn't help matters any that most famous operas are sung in either Italian, French, or German. Unless one is fluent enough in those languages, one would have to consult the libretto to understand what the hell the fat lady in the blond braids is screaming about. It's like watching a foreign film while reading the subtitles: it's distracting and detracts from your full appreciation and enjoyment of what's going on.

But in the same manner that great films can transcend language and convey powerful universal messages, great music needs no lyrics to soothe the savage beast. At its finest, the notes themselves carry genuine emotions through the air, bypassing the head and going straight to the heart.

Which is why I will never tire of this portly, unkempt gentleman with bad teeth springing a wondrous surprise with his rendition of said aria:

Unsurprisingly, purists have lambasted Potts' rendition, criticizing everything from his enunciation to his occasional flat notes. But as a layman, I find the juxtaposition of elements in this particular moment moving: his dowdy appearance, so far removed from the tuxedoed tenors of La Scala; the low expectations of the audience and judges; and when he finally opens his mouth to sing - the denouement.

It is pure opera: Potts is the underdog, the underestimated hero, but once he sings, the true magic of music takes hold and transports all who listen to a beautiful, rarefied place.

True, his rendition is far from perfect. But mawkish as this may sound, it was because he sang from the heart that his voice pierced through everyone's pre-conceived notions and literally moved them to tears.

It was one of those moments trained professionals spend their lives dreaming of.

Nessun Dorma indeed.

(Since embedding for this video has been disabled by request *shakes fist at Simon Cowell*, it took me a good while to track this one down. If it's removed, you can watch Paul Potts sing Nessun Dorma here. )

Enjoy. I know I did.

* Wiki , as always, is your friend.

P.S. A German telecoms company obtained the rights to this footage and turned it into one of the more edifying commercials I've seen. You can view it here.

P.S.2.: Grazie, Eternal Wanderer, for the inspiration for this post. You and your Bituing Marikit.


  1. will need to go home first before i see the videos. i doubt though that i'll be able to understand the songs.

    i'm just a simpleton =)

  2. @ engel : It's just one song, not even complete, just an excerpt. Forget the lyrics - let the music move you :P

  3. prego, caro amico (sei caldo) ;)

    his voice might be a tad too lightweight for the role of Calaf, but here is the real deal.

    i swear to the goodlordalmighty, when i first heard him sing Nessun dorma, i almost creamed in my shorties.

    and you're right. it may immensely enhance the experience if you understand what the aria is all about, but most of the time, the music is more than enough to caress and nourish your soul :)

    p.s. whoever said wagner is boring still hasn't experienced self-pleasuring him/herself to liebestod from tristan und isolde. i should know. i've already done it hihihihi

    darn, i'm tmi-ing agian lolz

  4. @ Eternal Wanderer : Well, look what the ushers dragged in.

    I agree that Pavarotti has made "Nessun Dorma" his signature song, and that his version has become the definitive one when it comes to that particular aria. No one can ever deliver it the same way old Luciano could - the same way no one can ever bring the depth, the pathos, the urgency to "Like A Virgin" that Madonna can.

    But I digress.

    Also, a Wagnerian Opera is akin to reading a James Joyce novel. After a while your eyes just glaze over on their own and drool trickles out of your gaping mouth.

  5. Rude: damn. that's just what happened when I attempted to read Ulysses hahahaha

    but do allow me to persuade you with

    Herr Karajan und Frau Norman - geliebte von himmel! :D

  6. @ E.W. : Mein Gott!!! Unglaublich!!!

    Mein liebe herr, your URL contained a malformed video ID.

  7. @ E.W. : There we go. Und danke!

    That was sublime. Jessye Norman is divine, simply divine. She is a goddess, with or without her blue tentacles.

    Oh, wait.

    That was Plava Laguna.

    Mein fehler.

  8. That was a great post, about an equally great performance. :-)

  9. @ Sonia : O, HAI! Thank you for the kind words, and for dropping by my blog. :D

  10. nahihirapan yata ako i-digest yan

    wait panoorin ko ulit ha

  11. @ xtian1978ii: What's so hard to digest? The unexpected twist has long been a staple of stories, plays, and movies. Paul Potts - like Susan Boyle after him - was just a living example of it.

  12. @ Eternal Wanderer : Only because you so graciously give me so many openings ;-P

  13. OMG Philippine's version of that show is going to start soon...

    iniisip ko na nga kung anong talent ang ipapamalas ko...

    i'd probably sit on a bottle.... naked... hahahaha

  14. no one is going to sleep, not even you ...

    until the fat lady sings. =D

  15. Ei rudy! I think you'll like this Danyl Johnson version of "And I Am Telling You" (Dreamgirls) in the show The X Factor ...

  16. @ Mr. Scheez : HA! That was refreshing! I have a thing for guys singing "female" pieces - curious to see if the songs affect me in a different way.

    Sayang, though - I thought he was holding back a bit. Needed more birit, imho, and sounds like he has the pipes for it, too. Then again, maybe I'm too used to the J-Hud/J-Holliday versions.

    Thanks for the link!