Texts and Translations

Giuseppe Verdi:

La Traviata
“Libiamo” (Brindisi)

This duet and chorus is sung near the beginning of the opera, when the star-crossed lovers Alfredo and Violetta meet for the first time. With no hint of the tragedy that will eventually befall them, they enjoy each other’s repartee and largesse with abandon.

Libiamo, libiamo ne'lieti calici
che la belleza infiora.
E la fuggevol ora s’inebrii
a voluttà.
Libiamo ne'dolci fremiti
che suscita l'amore,
poiché quell’ochio al core
omnipotente va.
Libiamo, amore fra i calici più caldi baci avrà.
Tra voi, tra voi saprò dividere
il tempo mio giocondo;
Tutto è follia nel mondo ciò
che non è piacer.

Godiam, fugace e rapido
e’il gaudio dell’amore,
e’un fior che nasce e muore,
ne più si può goder.
Godiam, c’invita un fervido accento lusighier.

Godiamo, la tazza e il cantico
la notte abbella e il riso;
in questo paradiso ne sopra il nuovo di.

La vita è nel tripudio
quando non s’ami ancora.
Nol dite a chi l’ignora,
e’ il mio destin così.


Let us drink from the goblets of joy
adorned with beauty,
and the fleeting hour shall be adorned
with pleasure.
Let us drink to the secret raptures
which love excites,
for this eye over my heart
reigns supreme...
Let us drink, for with wine love will enjoy yet more passionate kisses.
With you I can spend
the time with delight.
In life everything is folly
which does not bring pleasure.
Let us be happy, fleeting and rapid
is the delight of love;
it is a flower which blooms and dies,
which can no longer be enjoyed.
Let us be happy, fervent and enticing words summon us.

Be happy... wine and song
and laughter beautify the night;
let the new day find us in this paradise.

Life is nothing but pleasure,
as long as one is not in love.
Don't say that to one who does not know it.
That is my fate.

Be happy...

Charles Gounod:
“Je veux vivre”

(from Roméo et Juliette)

Following the story of Shakespeare’s landmark play, Roméo et Juliette was the successor to Gounod’s wildly successful Faust. This aria - sung by Juliet as others talk to her of marriage and she dreams of a life where it is eternally spring - certainly puts the “grand” in “French grand opera,” with soaring coloratura lines and impressive vocal acrobatics. 

Je veux vivre             
Dans le rêve qui m'enivre    Ce jour encor!            
Douce flamme
Je te garde dans mon âme    
Comme un trésor! 


Cette ivresse de jeunesse    
Ne dure hélas! qu'un jour
Puis vient l'heure        
Oú l'on pleure
Le coeur cède à l'amour
Et le bonheur fuit sans retour!

Loin de l'hiver morose,
Laisse moi sommeiller,

Et respirer la rose, 
Avant de l'effeuiller.

I want to live
In the dream that exhilarates me
This day again!
Sweet flame
I guard you in my soul
Like a treasure!

This rapture of youthfulness
Doesn’t last, alas! but a day,
Then comes the hour
At which one cries
The heart surrenders to love
And the happiness flies without returning!

Far from a morose winter,
Let me slumber
And breathe in the rose
Before it dies.

Richard Wagner:
“Treulich geführt” (Bridal Chorus)

from Lohengrin

Elsa, ward of Count Telmarund, is preparing for her wedding to her (literal) knight in shining armor, who has defeated her enemies, proved her innocent of a murder she did not commit, and betrothed himself to her on the condition that she never ask his name or origin. While this doesn’t go exactly to plan, this chorus is sung to prepare the couple for their wedding day and contains not a hint of the drama to come - it’s no wonder that it has become culturally synonymous with weddings (often alongside the imagined lyrics “here comes the bride”).

Treulich geführt ziehet dahin,
wo euch der Segen der Liebe bewahr'!
Siegreicher Mut, Minnegewinn
eint euch in Treue zum seligsten Paar.

Streiter der Tugend, schreite voran!
Zierde der Jugend, schreite voran!
Rauschen des Festes seid nun entronnen,
Wonne des Herzens sei euch gewonnen!

Duftender Raum, zur Liebe geschmückt,
nehm' euch nun auf, dem Glanze entrückt.

Treulich geführt…

Guided in faith, enter within,
where the blessing of love will preserve you!
Victorious valour and the prize of love
unite you in trust as a blessed pair.

Champion of virtue, advance!
Flower of youth, advance!
Let the sound of revelry be shut out
and your heart's bliss be attained!


Now, removed from sight, take possession
Of this perfumed chamber, decked for love.

Guided in faith…

Giacomo Puccini: 
“Senza Mamma”

from Suor Angelica

Senza mamma, o bimbo
tu sei morto!                  
Le tue labbra, senza i baci miei
scoloriron fredde!              
E chiudesti, o bimbo
gli occhi belli!                
Non potendo carezzarmi
le manine componesti in croce!      
E tu sei morto                    
senza sapere quanto t'amava         
questa tua mamma!                  
Ora che sei un angelo del cielo
ora tu puoi vederla la tua mamma
tu puoi scendere giù pel firmamento 
ed aleggiare intorno a me ti sento.  
Sei qui, mi baci e m'accarezzi.      
Dimmi, quando in ciel potrò vederti?  
Quando potrò baciarti?             
Dolce fine d'ogni mio dolore
quando in ciel potrò salire?        
Quando potrò morire?              
Dillo alla mamma creatura bella
con un leggero scintillar di stella.
Parlami, amore!

Without your mother, o my baby
you die!
Your lips, without my kisses
grow pale and cold!
And close, o baby
your pretty eyes.
I cannot caress you
your little hands composed in a cross!
And you are dead 
without knowing how loved you were 
by your mother!
Now you are an angel in heaven
now you can see your mother
you can descend from heaven
and let your essence linger around me.
Are you here, feel my kisses and caresses.
tell me, when will I see you in heaven?
When will I be able to kiss you?
Oh sweet end to all my sorrows
when I greet you in heaven.
When will I greet death?
Tell you mother, beautiful creature
with a sparkle of the stars.
Speak to me, my loved one!

Giuseppe Verdi:
“Va, pensiero” (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves)

from Nabucco

Nabucco tells the story of the Babylonian exile, beginning with the destruction of the temple and ending with king Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco in Italian) having a change of heart and ending their captivity. (That’s not quite how it goes in the Hebrew Bible, but everyone loves a good redemption story I guess) This chorus is undoubtedly one of the most famous opera choruses ever written, and at various times has held great significance to Italian national pride. 

Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate;
va, ti posa sui clivi, sui colli,
ove olezzano tepide e molli
l'aure dolci del suolo natal!

Del Giordano le rive saluta,
di Sionne le torri atterrate...
O, mia patria, sì bella e perduta!
O, membranza, sì cara e fatal!

Arpa d'or dei fatidici vati,
perché muta dal salice pendi?
Le memorie nel petto raccendi,
ci favella del tempo che fu!

O simile di Sòlima ai fati
traggi un suono di crudo lamento,
o t'ispiri il Signore un concento
che ne infonda al patire virtù.

Go, thought, on wings of gold;
go settle upon the slopes and the hills,
where, soft and mild, the sweet airs
of our native land smell fragrant!

Greet the banks of the Jordan
and Zion's toppled towers...
Oh, my country, so beautiful and lost!
Oh, remembrance, so dear and so fatal!

Golden harp of the prophetic seers,
why dost thou hang mute upon the willow?
Rekindle our bosom's memories,
and speak to us of times gone by!

Either, akin to the fate of Jerusalem,
give forth a sound of crude lamentation,
or let the Lord inspire you a harmony of voices
which may instill virtue to suffering.

Henry Purcell:
“When I am laid in earth/With drooping wings” (Finale)

from Dido & Æneas

Dido, the queen of Carthage, has been abandoned by her lover Æneas, who believes himself to have been sent to a greater destiny by the gods (when in fact it was a subterfuge by a jealous enchantress). In her misery Dido takes her own life, and in response the chorus sings a lament.

Thy hand Belinda, darkness shades me, 
On thy bosom let me rest
More I would, but death invades me, 
Death is now a welcome guest.

When I am laid in earth 
may my wrongs create 
no trouble in thy breast.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

With drooping wings you Cupids come,
To scatter roses on her tomb.
Soft and Gentle as her Heart
Keep here your watch, and never part.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:
“Die Strahlen der Sonne” (Finale), from Die Zauberflöte

Mozart’s final opera, premiered only months before his tragically early death, is a complicated tangle of broadly-painted archetypal characters acting out abstruse Masonic allegories (both Mozart and the librettist, Schikaneder, were Freemasons, and much ink has been spilt over the years as scholars tease out all of the Masonic references that permeate the opera), and contains some of the finest music he ever composed. In this choral finale, the enlightened ruler Sarastro congratulates the protagonist and his lover on their triumph over the their trials and the subsequent triumph of the sun (i.e. Himself) over the night (i.e. the aptly-named Queen of the Night), and the assembled company praises the dawn of a new era of wisdom and brotherhood.

Die Strahlen der Sonne
Vertreiben die Nacht.
Zernichtet der Heuchler
Erschlichende Macht.

Heil sei euch geweihten!
Ihr dranget durch Nacht.
Dank sei dir, Osiris!
Dank dir, Isis gebracht!

Es siegte die Stärke
Und krönet zum Lohn
Die schönheit und Weisheit
Mit ewiger Kron!

The rays of the sun
Drive away the night.
Destroyed is the hypocrites'
Surreptitious power.

Hail to you who are consecrated!
You pushed through night.
Thanks be to you, Osiris!
Thanks be brought to you, Isis!

May power be victorious
And crown as a reward
Beauty and wisdom
With an eternal crown.

Georges Bizet:
“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” (Habanera)

from Carmen

This aria/chorus serves as the audience’s introduction to the titular character, and endears her both to us and to one of her main love interests, Don José. If only he had heeded the final words of the aria (“Si je t'aime, prend garde à toi!”) he might have escaped the cruel fate that he– JUST KIDDING! In the end he murders her because of toxic masculinity. Bonus fun fact: Bizet thought he was riffing off a folk song when he composed this, but when he found out he was copying a melody by a composer who had died only ten years earlier (Sebastián Iradier) he appended a note to the vocal score in acknowledgement. 

L’amour est un oiseau rebelle
Que nul ne peut apprivoiser,
Et c'est bien en vain qu'on l'appelle,
S'il lui convient de refuser.
Rien n'y fait, menace ou prière,
L'un parle bien, l'autre se tait;
Et c'est l'autre que je préfère
Il n'a rien dit; mais il me plaît.

L'amour est enfant de Bohême,
Il n'a jamais, jamais connu de loi,
Si tu ne m'aime pas, je t'aime,
Si je t'aime, prend garde à toi!

L'oiseau que tu croyais surprendre
Battit de l'aile et s'envola;
L'amour est loin, tu peux l'attendre;
Tu ne l'attend plus, il est là!
Tout autour de toi vite, vite,
Il vient, s'en va, puis il revient!
Tu crois le tenir, il t'évite;
Tu crois l'éviter, il te tient!

L'amour est enfant de Bohême…

Love is a rebellious bird
That nothing can tame,
And it is simply in vain to call it
If it is convient for it to refuse.
Nothing will work, threat or pleading,
One speaks, the other stays quiet;
And it's the other that I prefer
He said nothing; but he pleases me.

Love is the child of the Bohemian,
It has never, never known any law,
If you don't love me, I love you,
If I love you, keep guard of yourself!

The bird you thought to surprise
Bat its wing and flew away;
Love is far away, you can wait for it;
If you wait for it no more, it is there!
All around you, quickly, quickly,
It comes, goes, then it comes back!
You think to hold it, it avoids you;
You think to avoid it, it holds you!

Love is the child of the Bohemian…

Leonard Bernstein:
“Tonight” (Balcony Scene)

from West Side Story

W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
The Major-General’s Song

from The Pirates of Penzance

The Pirates of Penzance tells the story of Frederic, a young apprentice to a pirate (just roll with it) who believes he has been released from his service having reached the age of twenty-one, but his old boss the scheming Pirate King attempts to retain him (aided by the foibles of the Gregorian calendar) and keep him from his new love, Mabel. This patter song, a staple of the comedic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, introduces Mabel’s father the Major-General, who shows off his depth and breadth of knowledge that (as is revealed in the final verse) ironically does not extend to subjects germane to his military station.

I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am[/he is] the very model of a modern Major-General.

In fact, when I know what is meant by "mamelon" and "ravelin",
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin,
When such affairs as sorties and surprises I'm more wary at,
And when I know precisely what is meant by "commissariat",
When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery –
In short, when I've a smattering of elemental strategy –
You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee [rode a horse].

For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am[/he is] the very model of a modern Major-General.

Georges Bizet:
“Je dis que rien ne m’èpouvante”

from Carmen

C'est des contrebandiers le refuge ordinaire.
Il est ici; je le verrai! 
Et le devoir que m'imposa sa mère  
Sans trembler je l'accomplirai          


Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante
Je dis, hélas! que je réponds de moi;        
Mais j'ai beau faire la vaillante...        
Au fond du coeur je meurs d'effroi!        


Seule en ce lieu sauvage                    
Toute seule j'ai peur
Mais j'ai tort d'avoir peur.                
Vous me donnerez du courage;                
Vous me protégerez, Seigneur!                


Je vais voir de près cette femme
Dont les artifices maudits                
Ont fini par faire un infâme                
De celui que j'aimais jadis!                
Elle est dangereuse...elle est belle!        
Mais je ne veux pas avoir peur!             
Non, non, je ne veux pas avoir peur!        
Je parlerai haut devant elle...ah!            
Seigneur, vous me protégerez.                
Protégez-moi!  Ô Seigneur!                
Donnez-moi du courage!                    

It is the smugglers ordinary refuge.
He is here, I will see him!
And the task that his mother imposed
Without  trembling, I will accomplish it.

I say that nothing can frighten me.
I say, alas, that I respond to myself;
But I play the part of the courageous one in vain...
From the bottom of my heart, I die of fear!

Alone in this savage place
All alone I am afraid,
But I am wrong to have fear.
You will give me courage;
You will protect me, Lord!

I am going to see face to face this woman,
Whose cursed guile
Has ended up to make a vile person
Of him that I love once!
She is dangerous, she is beautiful!
But I do not want to be afraid!
No, no, I do not want to be afraid!
I will speak up before her...ah!
Lord, you will protect me.
Protect me!  O Lord!
Give me courage!

Douglas Moore:
“Gold is a Fine Thing” (Silver aria)

from The Ballad of Baby Doe

The Ballad of Baby Doe is Moore’s most well-known opera, and one of only a few early-/mid-twentieth century operas by an American composer to be in the international opera repertoire. The story - based on historical figures - focuses on the rise and fall of a Colorado silver magnate and his tumultuous relationship with Baby Doe, and was premiered in the opera house which itself plays a role in the plot. In this aria, Baby Doe sings of her love for silver, that resource upon which her wealth (and, at that time but for only a little while longer, the entire monetary system) is founded.

Gold is a fine thing
For those who admire it. 
Gold is like the sun, 
But I am a child 
Of the moon, and silver 
Is the metal of the moon. 

Secret-smiler, wrapped in wonder, 
Floating in her cloudy magic, 
'Tis the moon that mints her silver 
In the deeps of darkened earth. 
All that's glowing, cool and tender 
Has the feel of silver in it–

Silver is an infant's laughter, 
Silver on the sage's brow, 
Silver on a moonlit river 
Echoes the silver orb above. 


I am a child of the moon 
And always 
Will adore her element, 
Dreaming as I watch it gleam, 
I am mining heavenly ore.
Gold is the sun, 
But silver, silver lies hidden in the core of dreams.

Leonard Bernstein:
“It must be so”

from Candide

I think I'm safe in calling Bernstein’s “Candide” the most successful operatic adaptation of Voltaire performed today. (fans of Rossini’s “Tancredi” or Bellini’s “Zaira,” prove me wrong!) The absurdly optimistic Candide and his fiancée Cunegonde are firm believers that this is “the best of all possible worlds” and that no matter what tragedies befall them (included being cheated out of a fortune, a catastrophic shipwreck, forced enlistment in the Bulgarian army, and the never-expected Spanish Inquisition) everything must work out for the best.

My world is dust now,

And all I loved is dead.

Oh, let me trust now

In what my master said: 

"There is a sweetness in every woe."

It must be so. It must be so.

The dawn will find me

Alone in some strange land.

But men are kindly;

They'll give a helping hand.

So said my master, and he must know.

It must be so. It must be so.

Leonard Bernstein
“Make Our Garden Grow” (Finale)

from Candide

At the end of this improbable story, Candide and Cunegonde remain firm in their optimistic outlooks – they resolve to make the most of their life together, imperfections and all, and “make [their] garden grow.”

You've been a fool and so have I,
But let’s be man and wife,
And let us try before we die
To make some sense of life.


We're neither pure nor wise nor good;
We'll do the best we know;
We'll build our house, and chop our wood,
And make our garden grow.

I thought the world was sugar-cake,
For so our master said;
But now I'll teach my hands to bake
Our loaf of daily bread.


We're neither pure nor wise nor good…


Let dreamers dream what worlds they please;
Those Edens can't be found.
The sweetest flowers, the fairest trees
Are grown in solid ground.


We're neither pure nor wise nor good…

notes by Robert Bolyard