Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why It Is Better Not To Know Italian

Puccini’s opera, La Boheme, includes some of the most beautiful songs ever written. I am especially fond of the arias and duet early in the play, when the starving writer, Rodolfo meets the waif, Mimi in his hovel. The romantic music and lyrics are enough to make anyone swoon. I don’t understand any Italian, but for some reason, that does not matter with music as fine as this.

However, I recently made the terrible mistake of looking up the English translation of the lyrics. What the two characters are actually saying (singing) to each other is depressingly banal. Rodolfo is saying something like, “Hey, baby, what’s your sign? Wanna blow this joint and grab some beers?”

That’s not a literal translation, but it conveys the sense of how utterly mundane the dialog is. Knowing that, pretty much ruins my imagination of high, spiritual romanticism. I have to will myself to forget the meaning of what they are saying. Too bad I looked it up. It is better not to know Italian if you love Italian opera.

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