Italy, throughout its history and despite the fact that is a small Country, has always been a worldwide lighthouse in the Fine Arts field. Among the greatest composers of history you can find Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Antonio Vivaldi, Vincenzo Bellini, Ennio Morricone and so on.
Following you can find what are considered true masterpieces when it comes to Opera music.
Nessun Dorma – Giacomo Puccini
Hands down the most popular aria performed in Giacomo Puccini’s masterpiece, Turandot, and also considered one of the greatest tenor arias in the history of opera music.
Luciano Pavarotti played a major role in making this aria popular, as he performed it by the end of 1990 Football World Cup, giving it popularity and relevance not only in the opera environment but also in the mainstream channels.
The aria is about Calaf, the unknown prince, that fell in love with the cold-hearted princess Turandot, but if he wishes to marry her he needs to solve three riddles, if he fails he’ll be beheaded. So the song is about him being sure that he’ll win her love, that’s why by the end of it the prince sings loudly “Vincerò” literally translated as “I will win”.
This aria represents a watershed in opera music history. Since Pavarotti’s most popular performance in the 90’s this kind of music was under the spotlight, not only for an elite audience, but also and mostly for a popular one, making opera music more accessible and well-known to everyone worldwide.
Luciano Pavarotti sings “Nessun dorma” from Turandot (The Three Tenors in Concert 1994)
Casta Diva – Vincenzo Bellini
A classic masterpiece written by Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini, part of Norma (that lately named a Sicilian traditional pasta recipe) written and composed in early 1800. The song, performed back in the days at the theater La Scala in Milan with a Philharmonic Orchestra, is about a prayer that the Gallic (old name for a French tribe) priestess, Norma, raises to the moon. Faced with the Gauls’ desire to fight against the Roman Empire, the priestess and clairvoyant Norma tries to calm their spirits, since it is written in the stars that Rome will fall, but not at the moment and not by their hands.
The opera opens with a sweet, harmonious and solid melody, in stark contrast to the voice of the soprano called to sing it, who instead pushes her voice towards high notes and overtones, almost reminiscent of a call to arms when the war approaches.
Bellini, unlike many other composers, wasn’t popular for building up immense and immersive musical architectures, but their design was simple and yet unpredictable giving back the feeling that something amazing is about to happen. Casta Diva starts with a few intervals, where each note goes back to its place and rotates around FA (F according to International music). From the FA the line moves away and gets closer, takes again a greater distance and there it is back again, touching different notes further and further away. The voice rises and rises up above the orchestra, to gradually descend again.
Maria Callas sings “Casta Diva” (Bellini: Norma, Act 1)
Italy has given to the world more than just Opera music, a lot of musicians have been recognized as true geniuses for renovating the genre, writing poems while adding notes to them, helped by the Italian language that indeed gives musicality to the lyrics. The most popular ones are Mina, Adriano Celentano, Lucio Battisti, Franco Battiato and many more that have been the blockbuster of the industry, giving us ageless and immortal true pieces of art.
Caruso – Lucio Dalla
Named after the most important Italian opera singer after Luciano Pavarotti, Enrico Caruso, the song was written by Lucio Dalla in 1986 and became an instant classic. Lucio Dalla (1943-2012), born in Bologna, has proven to be an eclectic singer, he was capable of playing many instruments, writing deep, personal and intense lyrics, probably as a reflection of his unhappy early life, as he lost his father when he was only 7 years old. He was so connected to his city, Bologna, and many of his songs are somehow dedicated to “her”.
In March of ‘86 Dalla was busy with a tour in the United States, Rai (national Italian broadcast) was following several concerts in particular the one taking place in New York, where among several stories the singer was telling about his experience in the USA. From the ashes of that intense year of his life Lucio wrote Caruso, which narrates about the last days of the tenor’s life, forever bonded to his homeland in Naples, but taken far away all over the world by his greatest gift: his voice.
The song establishes an intimate connection with its listeners, as it sounds like Caruso is talking to an old friend about love, life, success, suffering and passion. All of it collides with what music represents to him, a bliss and a curse. A bliss because his voice was a gift that gave him popularity, wealth and richness, but on the other hand he had to go through lung pain and throat nodules.
Lucio Dalla – Caruso (Videoclip)
Volare – Domenico Modugno
Doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you definitely heard of Volare, by Domenico Modugno. An instant classic written and released in 1958 that the very next year won the 1st Annual Grammy Award as Record of the Year.
This ballad has a dramatic chanson style, where you can find a youngman, Modugno, describing how it feels to be with his lover, literally as flying (volare means in fact to fly).
The lyrics is very light, soft, friendly, nothing too articulate or philosophical, Modugno while “flying” keeps his feet on the ground, his will is to talk openly about love without using big words, but with a straight forward attitude typical of Italian lovers.
Volare – Domenico Modugno – Nel blu dipinto di blu
They are considered the most popular Italian band in the world nowadays. Their breakthrough started after gaining the second place in X-Factor Italy in 2017. Right after their victory in Sanremo in 2021 (Italian music national competition), they went straight to Eurovision, the same year, where they dominated the stage and as their popularity increased worldwide they reached the American music industry and got invited to talk shows like Jimmy Fellon, opened a Rolling Stones concert and many more remarkable achievements.
The reason why they are so appreciated all over the world is that they compose music not only in Italian but in English as well, making both covers and original songs, like Beggin’ or Mamma Mia. On top of that they opened the Italian language to non-Italian speakers.
Is not easy to define why people do love them, most critics address it to the widespread computer-generated pop/reggaeton music, that sounds like the same tune repeated over and over again with different lyrics. An honorable mention needs to go to Damiano, as he often advocated racial and LGBTQ+ rights, even though they are unrelated to the music that the band plays.