Tosti’s song, “Ideale” and DeSanctis’ movie,”Umberto D.”

This lovely song is sung by the Swedish tenor Jussi Bjoerling. Please ignore the next seven lines: I can’t seem to delete them,


 – Ideale, by Paolo Tosti

 In my next few blog postings I will be writing about my book “Operatic Italian”.  In it I have a chapter on canzoni and how the language of many canzoni is essentially operatic.  Below you will find a detailed translation and analysis of Tosti’s “Ideale”. Just now, as I was listening to it for the umpteenth time it occurred to me that the Italian neo-realist movie “Umberto D.” also deals with poverty, straightened conditions, and the solace which only love can give.  Umberto’s love for his loyal little dog shows the same kind of sensitivity that one finds in “Ideale”. Trust Italians to be so sensitive to things of the heart!  Google Youtube, and search for other versions (e.g. Pavarotti’s)  of “Ideale”. You might also find the complete movie of “Umberto D”. I think it’s there.

  1. Io ti seguii come iride di pace

      I followed you like a rainbow of peace

      2 Lungo le vie del cielo.

      Along the pathways of the sky (or heaven).

  1. Io ti seguii come un’amica face

        I followed you like a friendly torch

  1. Della notte nel velo.

       Of night in the veil (In the veil of night).

  1. E ti sentii nella luce, nell’aria,

         And I felt you in the light, in the air,

  1. Nel profumo dei fiori;

         In the perfume of the flowers;

  1. E fu piena la stanza solitaria

          And (it) was full, the solitary room

  1. Di te, dei tuoi splendori.

         Of you, of your splendors

Second Stanza

  1. In te rapito, al suon della tua voce,

        In you caught up (enraptured), at the sound of your voice

  1. Lungamente sognai.

        For a long time I dreamt

–“sognai” can mean ‘thought meditatively upon’.

(The above line seems to me elliptical. Unravelled, it would be something like the following:

Al suon della tua voce io ero rapito in te e ti sognai lungamente.

At the sound of your voice I was enraptured in you and thought of you for a long time.

–“Rapito” is part of an ablative absolute. It’s hard to translate; I have suggested “enraptured”, but that’s slightly euphemistic. “Rapito” suggests violence, e.g., being carried off by an irresistible force.

  1. E della terra ogni affanno, ogni croce

        And of earth every sorrow, every cross

  1. In quel sogno scordai.

         In that dream I forgot.

The normal prose order here would be:

“In quel sogno scordai ogni affanno, ogni croce della terra.”

In that dream I forgot every sorrow, every cross (here) on earth.

  1. Torna, caro ideal! Torna un istante

         Come back, dear ideal! Come back a moment

  1. A sorridermi ancora.

        To smile on me again.

  1. E a me risplenderà, nel tuo sembiante

         And to me will shine, in your face

  1. Una novella aurora.

       A  new dawn.

Much of what we discussed in connection with operatic Italian applies to this song (or canzone). “Iride” “pace”, “face”, “velo”, “luce”, “aria”, “fiori”, “suon”, “rapito”, “affanno”, “croce” (as a metaphor for suffering), etc.: these words are common currency in Italian poetry and in opera. “Solitaria” (in “stanza solitaria” , verse 7) is a quintessential romantic adjective. The frequent use of the ‘passato remoto’ or “simple past” (“seguii” , “sentii” , “fu” , “sognai” “scordai”) also shows an affinity with operatic Italian. As noted earlier, (Chapter 13) this tense has a concise, literary feel to it. The inversion of normal word order in “della notte nel velo” (line 4) and “fu piena la stanza solitaria” (l. 7) is almost the hallmark of opera and poetry. So too are the convolutions which I have unraveled above (“In te rapito”, verse 9, and “in quel sogno” , verse 12).

“Stanza solitaria” is like one of Verdi’s “parole liriche”: words which ‘make the situation clear’. These two vital little words ground and anchor the rest of the song. The narrator or ‘voice’ of the song lives, one senses, in wretched conditions—cramped quarters and solitude. The only solace he finds is in an imaginary world (an ‘ideale’) which he, through his receptiveness and imagination, participates in creating. This ideal (or ideals of various changing sorts, perhaps)—he finds in the humblest, most natural and most accessible places: in a rainbow (“iride”), in the veil of night, (nel velo della notte) where it glows like a friendly torch (“come un’amica face”); in light, in the air, in the perfume of a flower. Without this significant little detail of the “stanza solitaria”, at once somewhat pathetic and sordid, the ethereal part of the song would lose much of its remarkable poignancy and intimacy. It is a deft touch by the songwriter.

In the second stanza the seeker of ideals is “rapito” (carried off), at the sound of the Ideal’s voice, and dreams of her for a long time. It is thanks to the “Ideale” that he is able to forget the hardship (“affanno”) and suffering of everyday living and find meaning and joy in life. This song makes an eloquent statement about how beauty gives life meaning and sense.

I like “Ideale”  for many reasons. It is literary but literary in a natural, unpretentious way. It deals with intangible aspirations and has an ethereal quality yet at the same time it expresses these things in concrete imagery taken straight from nature. It seems to be deeply personal yet at the same time anyone can identify with it.


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