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Nessun dorma

An aria from the opera, Turandot, by Giacomo Puccini
April 25, 1926

Turandot is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini, posthumously completed by Franco Alfano in 1926. Its most well known aria is “Nessun dorma” (“Let no one sleep”).

“Nessun dorma” is an aria from the final act of Giacomo Puccini’s 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.

Any man who wishes to marry 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.

Luciano Pavarotti captivated a global audience following his performance of “Nessun dorma” at the 1990 World Cup.

Both Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo released singles of the aria, with Pavarotti’s reaching number two in the United Kingdom.

Pavarotti’s performance of “Nessun dorma” appeared in a music album, The Three Tenors in Concert, the best selling classical album of all time.

The Three Tenors, Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras, and Plácido Domingo, performed the aria at three subsequent World Cup Finals, in 1994 in Los Angeles, 1998 in Paris, and 2002 in Yokohama.

Since 1990, many crossover artists have performed and recorded it. The aria has been sung often in movies and on television.

In the act before this aria is sung, Calaf has correctly answered the three riddles put to all of Princess Turandot’s prospective suitors.

Turandot recoils at the thought of marriage to Calaf, and he graciously offers her another chance, by challenging her to guess his name by dawn.

Kneeling before Turandot, the “Nessun dorma” theme plays as Calaf sings, “Il mio nome non sai!” (My name you do not know!).

The princess can have Calaf executed if she correctly guesses his name, but if she does not, she must marry him.

The cruel and emotionally cold Turandot then decrees that none of her subjects shall sleep that night until his name is discovered.

If her subjects fail to guess his name, all will be killed.

As the final act opens, it is 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 the cry of the heralds, and a reflection on Princess Turandot:

None shall sleep! None shall sleep!
Not even you, oh Princess,
in your cold bedroom,
watching the stars
that tremble with love, and with hope!

But my secret is hidden within me;
no one will know my name!
No, no! On your mouth,
I will say it when the light shines!

And my kiss will dissolve
the silence that makes you mine!
No one will know his name,
and we will have to, alas, die, die!

Calaf, now certain of victory, sings:

Vanish, o night!
Fade, you stars!
Fade, you stars!
At dawn, I will win!
I will win! I will win!

The aria “Nessun dorma” achieved worldwide popularity after Luciano Pavarotti’s 1972 recording was used as the theme song of BBC television’s coverage of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy.

“Nessun dorma” became Pavarotti’s signature aria.

Pavarotti sang the aria during the first Three Tenors concert on the eve of the 1990 FIFA World Cup Final in Rome.

For an encore, he performed the aria again, taking turns with José Carreras and Plácido Domingo.

The image of three tenors in full formal dress singing in a World Cup concert captivated the global audience.

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 aria became a regular feature of subsequent Three Tenors concerts.

The finale of the Opening Ceremony of the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics was Luciano Pavarotti’s final performance, in which he lip synched his pre recorded performance of “Nessun dorma.”

Pavarotti was suffering from pancreatic cancer, and was physically incapable of performing. He died the following year.

Pavarotti’s recording of “Nessun dorma” was played at his funeral during the flypast of the Italian Air Force. In 2013, Pavarotti’s rendition of “Nessun dorma” was certified gold by the Federation of the Italian Music Industry.

Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras, and Plácido Domingo are absolutely spectacular . . .

. . . but this version of the aria “Nessun dorma” sung by a nine year old girl, Amira Willighagen, is one of my favorites.

Listen, and be amazed.