I frequently tell new students that we musicians are bilingual (truth be told, this will make many of my student trilingual, and that makes me quite envious!). I also tell them that if they go to Italy they will be able to boss people around, telling them to be louder, softer, faster or slower, but if they really need anything they might be in a bit of trouble.

But NOW? … well, my friend Bob Kingston just posted the following at Google+

Opera season is about to start up again, and so in an effort to inform and enlighten I thought I’d share a few of my favorite Italian-language asides, utterances, and interjections, most of which have been taken from texts by such 19th-century librettists as Cammarano, Tottola, Ferretti, and Romani.

The next time you see or hear a character mutter something to themselves in a moment of great dramatic intensity, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what they’re actually saying.

“Io gelo!” – “I freeze!”
“Io gelo ed ardo” – “I freeze and burn”
“Gelo in un tempo” – “At one moment I freeze”
“Il gelo di morte”- “The chill of death”
“Un gelo mi corse per le vene” – “A chill runs through my veins”
“Son di gelo, son di sasso, fredda man mi stringe il cor” – “I’m frozen, made of stone, a cold hand grips my heart”
“Mi fa gelare e fremere” – “It makes me cold and anxious”
“Tutto il sangue mi si agghiaccia” – “My blood freezes”
“Balzar mi sento il cor” – “My heart beats in anticipation”
“Ti frena o povero mio cor” – “Be still, poor heart”
“Il crin mi drizzera” – “My hair stands on end”
“Un momento di spaventole silenzio” – “A moment of fearful silence”
“Un gemer fioco” – “A weak groan”
“Che abisso di orror!” – “What depths of horror!”
“Io tremo!” – “I shudder!”
“Ma trema!” – “But beware!”
“Ho sul ciglio la benda dell’ira” – “I am blinded with rage”
“Il patibolo s’appresta” – “The gallows draw nearer”
“Io vo’ di lui le viscere!” – “I want to disembowel him!”
“Mi strazia il rio velen!” – “The evil poison tears me apart!”
“Ha di tigre in petto il cor” – “He/she has the heart of a tiger in his/her breast”
“D’amore avvampo!” – “I am afire with love!”
“Le mie luci ricopre un vel'” – “A veil covers my eyes”
“Sul capo un fulmine piomba” – “A thunderbolt falls on my head”
“O cimento!” – “Oh, what a trial this is!”
“O smania!” – “Oh, madness!”


  1. Funny, just five minutes before reading this I texted a friend “Vittoria! Vittoria!!!!” (from Tosca – Victory! – I had finished laboriously pulling up the old ugly carpet on my stairs).

    I also like:

    Cinque minuti.
    A domani.

    though I generally just think those to myself. Probably there are more (unfortunately don’t have much use for “venti scudi” which seems to crop up a lot in operas) but I can’t remember off hand.

  2. What? No “che gelida manina?”

    Seriously, somebody needs to set up a foundation to help these poor librettists pay their heating bills…