Last updated: July 15, 1999

Opera and Song Mistranslations: Intentional or Otherwise

Send suggestions and additions to Lyle Neff,

"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 <>)
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,; "Lady with a mobile phone" (from Timothy Wright,
"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,
"In quelle trine morbide" =

"Liebestod" = "Froggie Went A-Courting" (from Emily Ezust,
"Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen" = "Songs of a Wandering Gazelle" (Mark Yolleck,
Lohengrin translated by Castrone: "Nun sei bedankt mein lieber Schwan" = Mercè, mercè, cigno gentil In Italian "mercè" means "Have mercy". (Reported by Sottotetti Giuseppe,

Here's an emendation by Davide Tortorella (

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 translation.)
Die Zauberflote. Hammelin's pipe. (Luis A. Catoni)

Compiler and partial author: Lyle Neff,