Last updated: July 15, 1999
Opera and Song Mistranslations: Intentional or Otherwise
Send suggestions and additions to Lyle
"Ed osan tanto!" = Ed Oz an' Tonto, the leaders of the Ethiopian
Army from Aida. Translation by a punchy baritone section of the
Opera Carolina chorus (from George Washington III <firstname.lastname@example.org>)
Well, not exactly, but I saw an old singing translation
of "Dichterliebe" and in "Ich grolle nicht", the climactic
line "Und sah die Schlang' die dir am Herzen frisst" was underlay
as "I saw the Bosom that the Serpent Gnaw'd." (Theresa Muir,
"La donna e mobile" = "The Woman Driver"
(from Robert Puy, email@example.com); "Lady with a mobile phone"
(from Timothy Wright, firstname.lastname@example.org)
"Dove sono" = "Dove Song" (Attributed to an unsophisticated
DJ who was about to play a 78 of a well-known soprano, reported by David
R. Richie II )
Feuersnot = Blazing Hankies (from the old Yale Music
Library toilet wall, heading "Memorable Mistranslations", reported
by William Brooks, e-mail address unreachable)
"Gott - welch Dunkel hier!" = "Jeez, a great dark beer!"
(Dale Hill, email@example.com)
"In quelle trine morbide" =
- "In those morbid trills" (heard once on radio, Luis A. Catoni)
- "In this morbid latrine" (Robert T Jones )
"Liebestod" = "Froggie Went A-Courting" (from Emily
"Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen" = "Songs of a Wandering
Gazelle" (Mark Yolleck, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lohengrin translated by Castrone: "Nun sei bedankt mein lieber
Schwan" = Mercè, mercè, cigno gentil In Italian "mercè"
means "Have mercy". (Reported by Sottotetti Giuseppe, email@example.com).
Here's an emendation by Davide Tortorella (firstname.lastname@example.org):
With reference to your quoting the wrong translation of Lohengrin's
"Nun sei bedankt" into "Mercé", it is true that
the first italian meaning of "mercé" (the most known)
is "have mercy", but it is also true that in ancient italian
it meant exactly "thank you", as attested by a lot of italian
authors of the early century, e.g. Boccaccio: "Madonna, la gran mercè".
The quoted translation of the famous aria has nonetheless a funny mistake
- it says "mercé cigno gentil, mercé cigno canor",
cigno canor meaning "Singing swan", when everybody knows swans
are mute (except from the legendary swan song before dying) - in any case,
in Wagner's opera, the swan doesn't utter a word.
"Porgi amor" = "Pig of love" (Attributed to an
unsophisticated DJ who was about to play a 78 of a well-known soprano,
reported by David R. Richie II )
"I Vespri Siciliani" = "The Four Seasons" (Yes,
I know that's the title of the ballet music, but the way it was announced
on the radio -- before and after that selection -- made it sound like a
Die Zauberflote. Hammelin's pipe. (Luis A. Catoni)
Compiler and partial author: Lyle Neff, email@example.com