A Translational Continuum

The Multiform Migration of the Iconic Song 'O sole mio

By Anna Fochi (Cardiff University, UK)


The manifold interface between music, migration and translation can foster challenging research, especially when translation is metaphorically approached as a continuous journey and migrating condition of people and forms. In this regard, the on-going translational evolution of a well-known popular song from Naples (‘O sole mio) is paradigmatic. By definition, a Neapolitan song (as ‘O sole mio is usually described) is rooted in multiple interconnections between heterogeneous materials and Naples itself has always given signs of being an open-air workshop on resistance and cultural hybridization. Moreover, this song has been crossing an unbelievable number of geographical, temporal and artistic boundaries, often intertwined with actual stories of Italian-American migration. The case study focuses on some relevant moments in this amazing journey, observing the successive layers of meaning created by its many incarnations.  Starting from its encounter with prestige opera audiences, thanks to great tenor Enrico Caruso (1916), the case-study follows the radical re-working and domestication that favour the full entrance of the song into the mainstream Anglo-American market (There’s no Tomorrow, 1949, sung by both Tony Martin and Dean Martin, and Elvis Presley’ hit It’s Now or Never, 1960), and finally focuses on the more recent return journeys to Naples and New York by Pino Daniele (2005) and Mario Bellavista (2011). By approaching this progress as a translational continuum, rather than a series of detached episodes of transformation, the analysis can highlight striking episodes of creative hybridization, which underscore positive feelings of transcultural intimacy and point to a “shared we”. The case study fully confirms that broader perspectives are crucial when studying the migration of popular songs. Monolithic notions, such as authenticity, cultural specificity or musical genre, as well as narrow distinctions between song translation proper, intralingua translation, non-translation and adaptation do not easily engage with this context. Thus, flexibility is the only viable answer. It is a stimulating field for both Music and Translation Studies, calling for more challenging approaches and greater contamination from both research areas.

Keywords: popular song, song translation, domestication, creative hybridization, ‘O sole mio, It’s Now or Never

©inTRAlinea & Anna Fochi (2019).
"A Translational Continuum The Multiform Migration of the Iconic Song 'O sole mio"
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Music as a migrating art

Music is a migrating form of art. Being a universal language (Minors 2013: 1), it can spread and migrate much more easily than people, thus establishing contacts and interacting with a variety of cultural influences. As Kapelj synthesizes  (in Proto Pisani 2011), music is a migrating art par excellence.

It comes as no surprise that stimulating contributions have recently appeared, showing that studies on music and migration can be promising allies (in particular, see Kapelj in 2009 and Kiwan and Meinhof 2011). Similarly, the articulate interface between music and translation has started to attract increasing academic attention, becoming the focus of a growing number of thought-provoking studies[1].

The intersection of translation and music can be a fascinating field to explore. It can enrich our understanding of what translation might entail, how far its boundaries can be extended and how it relates to other forms of expression. Research into this area can thus help us locate translation-related activities in a broader context, undermining more conservative notions of translation and mediation. (Susam-Saraeva 2008: 191)

Susam-Saraeva’s allusions to conservative notions evoke the last two decades of debates and dramatic change within Translation Studies. Since “the cultural turn has held sway in translation studies” (Munday 2001:127), contributing to the outlining of the “cultural translation paradigm” (Pym 2010: 144), challenging research has kept “undermining the more limiting conception of translation as meaning transfer” (Susam-Saraeva 2015: 7). The focus on translation has been shifted towards cultural processes, with increasing emphasis on new modes of mobility and transcultural sociability born across multiple borders and boundaries. Translation is seen as a continuous journey, a metaphor for the migrating condition of people and forms.

In our age of (the valorization of) migrancy, exile and diaspora, the world ‘translation’ seems to have come full circle and reverted from its figurative literary meaning of an interlingual transaction to its etymological physical meaning of local disrupture; translation seems to have been translated back to its origins. (Bassnett and Trivedi 1999: 13)

Given the fact that music can foster multidimensional and multidirectional cultural processes, the question is whether, and to what extent, it can also contribute to boosting the inner nature of translation, showing it as an “ongoing site of creativity”, rather than as a process imprisoned between the fixed oppositional poles of source and target (Glick Schiller and Meinhof 2011: 21). To approach translation as an “ongoing site of creativity” opens up fascinating perspectives for research. Thus, focussing on the relationship between music and translation and spotlighting popular song translation, this article chooses the multifaceted American journeys of an iconic song from Naples, Southern Italy: ‘O sole mio. Far from being images of straightforward translational transfer, the multiple single and return journeys of ‘O sole mio rather show how the song undergoes various transformations. After examining the 1916 classical performance of ‘O sole mio by a world-famous tenor, Enrico Caruso, the case-study then follows the full entrance of the song into the Anglophone musical market by means of a radical reworking in 1949, There’s no tomorrow, by both Tony Martin and Dean Martin. A few years later, Elvis Presley’s greatest hit, It’s Now or Never, turns it into an amazing commercial product, which fully complies with the Anglo-American mainstream musical market, thanks to a relevant process of domestication. Nonetheless, Elvis Presley’s hit has not stifled the migrating strength of the song. In fact, It’s Now or Never has been an exceptional sustaining force for ‘O sole mio. It has fostered its translational vitality: from its 1962 courageous encounter with the twist rhythm, in Franco Verna’s Facimel’a twist (‘O sole mio), to the rich cultural intimacy of two outstanding return journeys, Pino Daniele’s It’s Now or Never (2005) and Mario Bellavista’s jazz version of ‘O sole mio  (2011).

Each time some meaningful layers have been added, both problematizing and enriching the migration of this song. However, these steps can be better understood only if read as parts of a complex process still in progress, rather than a series of detached translational episodes. Therefore, the aim of the article is to offer a downside-up contribution to the debate on song translation through a paradigmatic case study. The analysis of a concrete example of a multifaceted translational process is a way to confirm and stress the relevance of more comprehensive and extended theoretical foundations within cultural translation studies.

Overcoming boundaries in the study of popular song translation

Translation Studies have often overlooked popular songs, especially their semiotic complexity. Yet, paradoxically, it is their very multidimensional nature that makes studying them so challenging and promising at the same time. This is confirmed by the growing attention devoted to songs within research on translation and music: from relevant contributions in both the 2008 special issue of The Translator (by Davies and Betahila, Öner, McMichael) and in Minors’ volume in 2013 (by Newmark, Low, Kaindl) to stimulating articles by Low (2013b) and Fernández (2015).

Undoubtedly, an element of its complexity is the fact that the genre called song is a verbal-musical hybrid (Low 2013b: 237). 

Words set to music are an instance of what Jacques Derrida called the supplement, an added element which is nonetheless integral to the whole  […] These supplements come in different forms, but they always present the paradox of belonging and being separate at the same time. (Chanan 2013)

However, this paradox is only one of the elements of complexity in songs. Kaindl describes popular song as “a semiotically complex form of aesthetic communication perceived as part of popular culture” (Kaindl 2005 and 2013: 151), or, more synthetically, a plurisemiotic artefact. Thus, still in Kaindl’s words, songs are “polyphonic texts”. The three main dimensions in song are music, voice and lyrics, but, of course, there are other components to be taken into consideration (Kaindl 2013: 151−2). As a matter of fact, songs are made up of both textual and extra-textual materials: linguistic and musical elements create a dialogue between themselves as well as with aural and visual materials (Fernández 2015 and Bosseaux 2013).

[Sung popular music] consists of linguistic, musical and visual elements which are transmitted by one person or a group, either by audio-visual or audio means, in the form of short narrative independent pieces. […] The visual presentation (live performances, music videos and album covers) is strongly connected to the dissemination and commodification of popular songs. The physique of the performers, their facial expression and gestures, their costumes, hair, and make-up, as well as dancers, lighting and possible props, merge into the song. (Kaindl 2013: 152−3)

The methodological complexities and challenges involved in the study of popular song translation are thus evident. The study of song recordings and videos should rely on a vast area of expertise. A combined competence, in Translation Studies, Music as well as Semiotics, is unfortunately not easy to find. However, even when moving on from mere criticism of single texts, researchers need to adopt new frameworks when studying music and translation (Susam-Saraeva 2008: 190). To start with, greater flexibility is crucial, since rigid distinctions could be misleading. In this regard, this article offers different perspectives, for example, from Low’s, who instead argues the need for clear definitions in song translation criticism. Since “definitions need boundaries (Latin fines)”, he deliberately urges “ a narrow view of what should be really called ‘song translation’” (2013b: 241, 243), to be distinguished from both “adaptation” and “replacement text”. The present author rather shares the view that distinctions are better seen as blurred in post-structuralist thought (Van Wyke 2014: 240). This opinion is even more appropriate in the case of translation of non-canonized music, such as popular song translation. Susam-Saraeva stresses that

[…] in non-canonized music, such as popular or folk songs, it is often impossible – and in my opinion, undesirable – to pinpoint where translation ends and adaptation begins […] such boundaries may become totally irrelevant. (Susam-Saraeva 2008: 189, highlighting added)

This case study will show how a long series of different transformations can receive greater significance if approached as a continual translational story. However, this approach inherently requires the overcoming of narrow definitions and boundaries between translation proper, adaptation and re-writing.

‘O sole mio and collective identity building

Scholars have stressed the crucial role played by popular music in helping people “define their relationship to local, everyday surroundings” (“narrativization of place”), as well as its part in articulating “notions of community and collective identity” (Bennet 2004: 2−3 and Fernández 2015: 271). Understandably, the impact of music and in particular of songs is even more intense on migrant communities (Susam-Sarajeva 2008: 188). All this is both confirmed and problematized by ‘O sole mio, the prime example of Neapolitan song culture becoming a global phenomenon.

Since its composition in 1898 (lyrics by Giovanni Capurro, music by Edoardo Di Capua, published by Edizioni Bideri, Naples), the song has spread rapidly and is still crossing an impressive, unbelievable number of geographical, temporal and artistic borders and boundaries. Del Bosco opens his monograph on ‘O sole mio by stating that the song is the best known song in the world, and if this were not enough, even in the whole universe (Del Bosco 2006: 5). At any rate, it cannot be denied that its popularity has been exceptional, and this is fully confirmed by the Neapolitan Song Sound Archives in Naples, a recent foundation by RadioRai (the Italian state radio) together with Naples Municipality and Campania Regional Council. For example, from the Archives we learn that ‘O sole mio has been extensively translated and interpreted by international opera singers, orchestras, artists and bands, as well as famous solo players. Equally striking is the variety of musical instruments used to interpret it, from violin, piano, trumpet, guitar, mandolin to electric guitars, Hammond organs, saxophones, and even the ukelin (a combination of the violin and the Hawaiian ukelete, made popular in the 1920’s in the USA).

Such worldwide circulation soon contributed to turn ‘O sole mio into a sort of Italian national anthem, thus starting to link it to narratives of national identity. Eloquent proof of this is that on August 14th 1920 in Antwerp, at the opening of the first Olympic Games after World War I, when the band conductor realized that no score of the Italian Royal March was available, he chose to play 'O sole mio, a tune that all his musicians could play by ear, and the song was greeted with great enthusiasm by all those present (Del Bosco 2006: 6). Even more surprisingly, since ‘O sole mio has deep local and regional roots, it is recorded that, at least in 1954, the song was regularly performed as the Italian National Anthem throughout the American continent, from Canada to Latin America (Del Bosco 2006: 23).

As already noted, ‘O sole mio is usually classified as a Neapolitan song. However, although Italy is a relatively young nation within Western Europe, since it was unified only in 1861, and internal regional differences are still great, in the world of song, what is usually referred to as Neapolitan has often been considered an emblem not only of “Neapolitanness” but even of “Italianness”.

[la canzone napoletana] è un’espressione musicale che metonimicamente “significa” e rappresenta una città, quando non l’intero Paese. (Pesc and Stazio 2013: 11)
[As a music form, Neapolitan song is a metonymy for a city, and sometimes even for the whole country.]

It is an eloquent example of narrativization of place. However, any claims to regard City and Country as monolithic entities remain suspect. We must acknowledge that urban cultures are by their very nature the result of multiple intersections and layers, and similarly local and national cultures are seldom so homogenous as to be conveyed by a single song, or music form, although they may serve as identity emblems. Naples is no exception, of course, though it has a few very distinctive traits. One of them is the persisting presence of a type of musical production with strong identifying factors since the 19th, which complicates and problematizes what has just been observed. On the other hand, an important issue to weigh in is that, paradoxically, this musical form is a sort of hybrid, and has been so since its very beginning.

What is usually labelled as Neapolitan song is very far from being a uniform musical genre. In fact, it is a much more complex and multifaceted cultural phenomenon than one might expect. “La canzone napoletana è praticamente indefinibile” [it is practically impossible to define Neopolitan song] (Del Bosco 2006: 9). The beginning of the classical season of Neapolitan art songs is identified with the closing decades of the 19th century, but the actual origins of this musical form are vague and should be traced back to the 14th century, and probably even earlier. Neapolitan polyphonic roundelays (with lute or calascione accompaniment[2]) had already become quite popular between the 14th and the 15th centuries; their matrix had been the villanelle alla napolitana, a very popular song genre in Neapolitan dialect especially between 1537 and 1652, which also attracted important composers, like Claudio Monteverdi.

 [...] per quanto riguarda la canzone napoletana sono accomunate sotto una stessa dizione forme espressive prodotte in momenti diversi e in modalità produttive differenti [...] affonda le radici in processi di interpenetrazione fra materiali eterogenei (canti contadini, frammenti operistici, estrapolazioni dalla letteratura di colportage, cultura musicale tradizionale cittadina, ecc. ) in cui trovavano espressione fenomeni come la ininterrotta immigrazione a Napoli da altre province del Regno e il continuo, quotidiano, pendolarismo dei cafoni fra la città e le campagne circostanti. Questo “laboratorio”, dunque, ha cominciato a funzionare molto tempo fa, e possiede una vitalità che pare inesauribile. (Pesc and Stazio 2013:11, 21)
 [Actually, Neapolitan song is an umbrella term for a number of expressive forms produced at different times and in diverse ways […] it is rooted in the interpenetration of heterogeneous materials, such as farmer folk songs, opera fragments, extrapolation from colportage literature, urban music traditions, etc. It also reflects complex phenomena, from the steady migration into Naples from other areas in the Realm, to the continual daily commuting of so-called cafoni, common louts, from the surrounding countryside. Thus, this “workshop” has been working for a long time, and still shows hard-won vitality.]

Naples and its multi-layered cultural background, therefore, can be seen as a vital crucible of multiple encounters and interfusions, a space for manifold “in-migration” and “out-migration “. This is the key to interpreting the transmuting life of ‘O sole mio. Its migration begins almost immediately, as portrayed in a well-known episode of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. It is the episode called "Séjour à Venise" (La fugitive, or Albertine disparue, posthumously published in 1925), where Marcel refuses to go to the train station with his mother and remains on the hotel terrace listening to a gondolier singing ‘O sole mio[3]. Although fiction is not to be taken as an accurate reflection of real life, this episode evokes a plausible dislocation of the song from Southern Italy to Venice, popular enough to be sung even by a gondolier. Venice and Naples had belonged to different states only a few decades before, in pre-Unification Italy. This means that important cultural and linguistic borders had still to be crossed within the Italian peninsula. We can presume that Proust’s gondolier singing ‘O sole mio would be likely to speak only the Venetian dialect, while ‘O sole mio is not even written in Italian. In point of fact, its lyrics, even nowadays, can be only partially understood by native Italian speakers not fully acquainted with the Neapolitan dialect. That is the reason why Del Bosco’s monograph, like most Italian webpages on the song, displays the lyrics alongside a literal translation into Italian (Del Bosco 2006: 119).

An eventful mistranslation

The evocative lyrics of ‘O sole mio are by a minor Neapolitan poet, Giovanni Capurro (1859-1920). Structurally and rhythmically, the text is characterized by regularity and constant alternation of rhymed stanzas and chorus. Repetition (words, phrases and whole lines) is the key figure throughout the poem. Moreover, each four-line stanza is framed by the recurrence of the same line. It’s a perfect introduction to the lyrical and melodic explosion of the chorus, which clearly carries the song’s impact and message.

‘O Sole Mio

Il sole mio

My own sun




Che bella cosa ‘na jurnata ‘e sole,
N’aria serena doppo na tempesta!
Pe’ ll’aria fresca pare già na festa
Che bella cosa ‘na jurnata ‘e sole

Che bella cosa una giornata di sole,
Un’aria serena dopo la tempesta!
Per l’aria fresca pare già una festa…
Che bella cosa una giornata di sole!

What a wonderful thing a sunny day
The cool air after a thunderstorm!
The fresh breezes banish the heavy air…
What a wonderful thing a sunny day.




Ma n’atu sole
cchiù bello, oi ne’.
‘O sole mio
sta ‘nfronte a te!
‘O sole, ‘o sole mio
Sta ‘nfronte a te
sta ‘nfronte a te!

Ma un altro sole
Più bello c’è, o ragazza
Il sole mio
Sta in fronte a te.
Il sole, il sole mio,
Sta in fronte a te
Sta in fronte a te.

But another sun,
That’s brighter still
It’s my own sun
That’s in your face!
The sun, my own sun
It’s in your face!
It’s in your face!




Lùcene ‘ellastre d’’a fenesta toia;
‘na lavannara canta e se ne vanta
E pe’ tramente torce, spanne e canta
Lùcene e ‘llastre d’’a fenesta toia.

Ma n’atu sole

Luccicano I vetri della tua finestra,
una lavandaia canta e si vanta
Mentre strizza, stende e canta.
Luccicano I vetri della tua finestra!

Ma un altro sole

Shining is the glass from your window;
A washwoman is singing and bragging
Wringing and hanging laundry and singing
Shining is the glass from your window.

But another sun,




Quando fa notte e o’ sole se ne scenne,
Me vene quase ‘na malincunia;
Sotto ‘a fenesta toia restarria
Quando fa notte e ‘o sole se ne scenne.

Ma n’atu sole

Quando fa sera e il sole se ne scende,
Mi viene quasi una malinconia…
Resterei sotto la tua finestra,
Quando fa sera ed il sole se ne scende.

Ma un altro sole

When night comes and the sun
Has gone down, I start feeling blue;
I’d stay below your window
When night comes and the sun has gone down.

But another sun,

In the whole poem, a text of only thirty-three lines, the word sole (sun) occurs sixteen times. Presumably this core image is what has helped it overcome linguistic barriers and reach native Italian speakers outside Naples. This is aided by the fact that, although ‘O sole mio is in the Neapolitan dialect, it employs a sort of moderate dialect, somehow diluted and tempered by both phrases and structures taken from standard Italian (Pesc and Stazio 2013: 417). On the other hand, the difficulty for a non-Neapolitan listener to fully understand the lyrics, is confirmed by a mistake in translation, often found in many webpages: the opening line of the chorus “Ma n’atu sole / ‘cchiù bello, oj ne’” means that, although the sun is so beautiful and delightful, there is an even brighter sun. However, to an Italian listener the last two words of the line, “oj ne’”, sound like “non c’è” (‘there isn’t’), which explains the recurrent misunderstanding in webpage literal translations into Italian “Un altro sole / più bello non c’è” (‘but no brighter sun there is’). Yet, with ’no brighter sun there is’ instead of ‘there is an even brighter sun’, the opposite message meaning is conveyed (Del Bosco 2006: 124).

Nonetheless, although it is not a minor mistake, this common mistranslation has paved the way of the migration of the song, at least at the beginning. With many of its colourful details being overshadowed, ‘O sole mio has soon entered the collective national imagination as a sort of irresistible hymn to the sun and to all that it is supposed to mean for those who live in a Mediterranean country. It has become a quintessential synthesis, or rather an epitome of Latin vitality and passionate feeling. The mistaken meaning has even become an important factor in collective identity construction. The statement “another, lovelier sun doesn’t exist” has the logical consequence that beautiful sunshine can be found only in Naples, and, by direct irradiation, in Italy as well. The implicit commonplace is the equation sunshine is Naples and Italy, with two direct corollaries:

  • By right, sunshine belongs to any Italian emigrant’s stock of home-longing feelings.
  • For the most part, sunshine does not exist outside Naples/Italy (Del Bosco 2006: 71).

Migrating Overseas

It is not clear if ‘O sole mio, is even partly indebted for its journey outside Naples to the so-called posteggiatori, since their activity was waning when the song was composed. They were singular figures, street musicians who, accompanied occasionally by a pianino (a portable musical box on a hand-cart), but mostly by a guitar, interpreted all types of popular song, travelling almost all over Europe[5].

What is certain is that the song’s main “leap outside” is connected to the interpretation of the great tenor Enrico Caruso, himself from Naples, and a migrant artist in his own way, too (Naples 1873-1921). Obviously, ‘O sole mio had already reached the USA thanks to Italian migrants. “My grandfather brought his songs from Naples and taught them to his children and they taught them to me”, reports a third-generation Italian migrant living in Massachusets (Tawa 1982: 37). Italians were migrating from different parts of Italy, carrying with them very different cultural backgrounds. However, as we have seen, ‘O sole mio, had quickly found its way across linguistic and cultural barriers within Italy, and this explains why in the early years of the Twentieth Century ‘O sole mio could contribute to the cementing of all Italian communities in North America (Tawa 1982: 19).

Nevertheless, it is thanks to Enrico Caruso that ‘O sole mio reached an unprecedented status and fame. Caruso was the most admired Italian opera tenor of the early Twentieth Century, and certainly the most celebrated and highest paid of his contemporaries worldwide. From November 23rd 1903 his name was associated with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, where he opened each season for eighteen consecutive years. When he decided to include ‘O sole mio in his interpretations, he was the first great singer to adopt the song. In 1916, when he was at the peak of his career, Caruso also recorded ‘O sole mio in one of the best studios in New Jersey, accompanied by an opera orchestra[6]. Undoubtedly, this recording itself could be seen as a meaningful form of transformation, through musical reconceptualization, arrangement, performance and singing style.

Caruso’s choice to include the song in his repertoire, together with other Neapolitan melodies, can be read as an implicit affirmation of national and regional identity. Certainly, Italian communities abroad looked up to him. He was a migrant like them, and thus they could idolize him as an emblem of collective Italian redemption. Similarly, thanks to Caruso, a popular song like ‘O sole mio could progress from minor to prominent locations. Opera and great theatres meant higher prestige and greater circulation abroad, well beyond Italian-speaking migrant communities. Its higher musical and social status is confirmed by both Caruso’s decision to record it and the prestigious format chosen. In the wake of the beginning of Western cultural industry, Caruso’s recording of ‘O sole mio meant an undisputable increase in its dissemination, targeting greater audiences and paving the way to its gradual turning into an amazing commercial product.

Most of the listeners in the USA were unlikely to understand the lyrics of ‘O sole mio at all, but the success of the song confirms that “it is after all quite possible to enjoy a sung performance without any knowledge of the language being used” (Davies 2008: 250)[7]. This way, ‘O sole mio gradually turns into a veritable “musicocentric” song, where music, melody and voice are valued more than words[8]. Apparently, this quality of the song was stressed even more by Caruso’s interpretation. His voice had already conquered American opera audiences for its atypical and unorthodox flavour, so “genuine” by comparison with the “spurious and studied” voices of illustrious American predecessors (Gara 1947: 139). In his interpretation of ‘O sole mio, the great tenor’s warm, ardent and vigorous voice amplifies the passionate strength of the melody and creates what is remembered as a legendary performance, with his recording remaining the benchmark by which all others are usually measured.

Surprisingly, however, Caruso’s rendering of ‘O sole mio, which has often been treated as the officially consecrated one, offers a shortened version of the song, completely omitting the second stanza. This way, greater emphasis is placed on the stanzas that are more focussed on the sunshine and easier to understand, being linguistically least dialectical. In the wake of Caruso’s interpretation, ‘O sole mio has been sung by a vast number of great opera singers, but it is Caruso’s shortened version that is mostly privileged. Yet, the fact that Caruso’s interpretation is already a form of transposition, from both a musical and textual point of view, easily tends to be missed. One telling example can suffice: without any explicative note or comment, the website Italamerica proposes the unabridged version of the lyrics to accompany Caruso’s shortened version of ‘O sole mio. In fact, although Caruso’s performance is often nostalgically looked back to as the epitomical model of the classic and pristine rendering of the song, we must acknowledge that it is not the “authentic” ‘O sole mio. Instead it proves how incongruous ideas of authentic interpretations can be.

Displacement and evolution: the encounter with the American market

As a consequence of its increasing success in the USA, ‘O sole mio soon begins to get translated into English. The first recorded version in English sung by American born Charles W. Harrison, My sunshine, dates back to 1915, and is soon followed by similar examples of fairly literal translations, or “singable translations”[9]. Surprisingly, in 1921 ‘O sole mio even evolves into a religious hymn, Down from His Glory, when William E. Booth-Clibborn replaces Capurro’s lyrics and writes a new text to Capua’s ‘O sole mio. However, although interesting, all these cases only affect the textual-linguistic level of the song. A more important departure is the totally new version of ‘O sole mio, musically and verbally re-reworked by Al Hoffman, Leo Corday and Leon Carr in 1949, with the title There’s no tomorrow. It was sung by the American singer Tony Martin as well as by the Italian American singer Dean Martin, who recorded it some years later. Easily perceivable effects of cultural displacement can be spotted in the disconnecting of lyrics and partly of music, too, from the Neapolitan song that had reached the USA. It is a radical rewriting, to start with the lyrics.

Love is a flower that blooms so tender
Each kiss a dew drop of sweet surrender,
Love is a moment of life enchanting,
Let's take that moment, that tonight is granting,
There's no tomorrow when love is new,
Now is forever when love is true,
So kiss me and hold me tight,
There's no tomorrow, there's just tonight[10].

In Tony Martin’s version, the passionate tune of the chorus is made to begin the song, turning the second stanza into little more than transitional reasoning[11]. What is more important, in both Tony Martin’s and Dean Martin’s versions any references to the sunshine have disappeared, thus overshadowing that once important element of national identification. It gives way to a more universal theme, Love, which Love becomes the absolute protagonist of the song. What is retained, however, is the captivating passionate melody of ‘O sole mio. Its warmth and unmistakably Mediterranean flavour are easily seen as the perfect match for a successful message of fervent and sensuous seduction. However, the rhythm is slowed down, more ostensibly so in Dean Martin’s singing. The shift from opera orchestras to variety show bands needs important musical reconceptualization, but voice still plays the main role. Tony Martin’s interpretation is more full-throated and passionate, whereas Dean Martin’s lower and baritone voice underlines sensuousness and intrigue, a characteristic he comically exaggerated in his vaudeville show with Jerry Lewis. In both cases, however, what remains pivotal is the successful match of passionate melody and warm voice.

In particular, Dean Martin stresses the bond between ‘O sole mio and There’s no tomorrow in a number of different interpretations, from parody, in the vaudeville show, to more traditional versions; for example, when he sings There’s no tomorrow as an unbroken introduction to ‘O sole mio, so as to honour the origin as well as the cultural progress of both song and singer (Hoffman 1949)[12]. Unlike Tony Martin, Dean Martin is a second generation Italian American and he accomplishes two objectives, when he sings ‘O sole mio after There’s no tomorrow as one song. On the one hand, he is adding a strong exotic Mediterranean flavour to his performance, thoroughly befitting a passionate seduction song, while, on the other hand, he is sending a strong signal to Italian communities in America. Despite his success in the American song market, he is not denying his origins and, even more important, the audience is invited not to forget that There’s no tomorrow does not only spring from ‘O sole mio, but is still deeply intertwined with it.

At any rate, in spite of the differences in interpretations between Tony Martin and Dean Martin, There’s no tomorrow is the result of an unmistakable process of unequal cultural power relations and domestication[13]. Both musically and textually the Neapolitan song is drastically changed through a translational approach, which minimizes its foreignness to the point of overshadowing it. However, this approach has certainly enforced distribution and the entrance of the song into the Anglophone musical market, since translation makes the song comply with the “conventions that seemed effective in popularizing a composition” (Tawa 2005:15).

A 20th-century concept, which rarely appeared in earlier song but did appear with some frequency from the thirties on, was the possibility of impermanent love. [...] Over the next four decades, the likelihood of loved not being eternal was raised in song. (Tawa 2005: 98)

Therefore, There’s no tomorrow is fully in line with mainstream popular songs of the first half of the Twentieth Century in the USA. It favours love as a theme, although romantic sentimentality gives way to seduction and passion, with a subtle trace of urban cynicism.

Elvis Presley’s It’s Now or Never

Reportedly, it is through Tony Martin’s There’s no tomorrow that Elvis Presley meets O’ sole mio, during his military service in Germany in 1959. He is won over by the song, especially for its melody that offers great potentiality for “beautiful singing”, the full-throated vocal style which is often roughly identified as bel canto. Elvis Presley commissions brand new lyrics, tailored especially to him, to two expert songwriters, Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold, who present him with It’s now or never, a version of the song in cha-cha-cha rhythm.

When I first saw you with your smile so tender
My heart was captured, my soul surrendered
I'd spend a lifetime waiting for the right time
Now that you’re near the time is here at last.

It's now or never, come hold me tight
Kiss me my darling, be mine tonight
Tomorrow will be too late,
it's now or never, my love won't wait.

Just like a willow, we would cry an ocean
If we lost true love and sweet devotion
Your lips excite me, let your arms invite me
For who knows when we’ll meet again this way.

It's now or never, come hold me tight
Kiss me my darling, be mine tonight
Tomorrow will be too late,
it's now or never, my love won't wait[14].

But Elvis Presley is not satisfied and insists on shifting back to a bolero-rock rhythm, and bolero is, incidentally, the rhythm originally chosen by Capurro for O’ sole mio (Del Bosco 2006: 43 and 83). Moreover, when Elvis Presley records it in 1960, he follows Tony Martin’s model, choosing to begin the song with the winning melody of the chorus[15]. It is immediately a roaring success. It becomes Elvis Presley’s greatest hit and literally takes the world by storm, selling millions of copies and becoming number one in countries worldwide. According to the Wikipedia list of best-selling singles, it is the eighth best-selling single of all time, while other sources exalt it as the best-selling single ever.

Presley’s joyful take showing off his baritone to tenor end range, made number 1 in the US and the UK. Arguably the best selling single of all time, it shifted 30 million copies worldwide (Julie Burns 2011)

Thematically It’s now or never is consistent with There’s no tomorrow, focussing on love and passion, and similarly inviting the beloved to surrender and take the chance. The key words are identical, “surrender”, “now”, “kiss”, “tomorrow”. Yet, although along the same line, Schroeder and Gold’s lyrics sound more emphatic than Hoffman, Corday and Carr’s. The incisive opposition “now or never”, followed by the strong statement “my love won’t wait”, are even a further departure from the sunny sentimentality of Capurro’s lyrics.

Structurally and musically, It’s now or never is a conventional song by early 1960s American standards, too. It consists basically of a 16-bar chorus and verse, both based on a familiar tune, and there is nothing unusual or striking about the melodic or harmonic structure of this song. In the 1960 recording of the song, It’s now or never opens with a brief instrumental introduction. Then Elvis Presley begins his singing with the chorus, in this keeping to Tony Martin’s There’s no tomorrow. As Saffle states, what is really unusual is the way Elvis sings this song, his strikingly handsome and heart-felt performance (Saffle 2009: 13). Elvis Presley was a stunning performer, and although he did not compose any of his music, the ways in which he performed the songs made them always sound new and unique. However, since his powerful stage presence had started to defy the values of more conservative audiences, who began to be suspicious of his glamorous bad-boy appeal and his culturally challenging music, in this song he deliberately adopted a more passionate and less defiant performing style (Saffle 2009: 2).

With It’s now or never, the process of domestication could not be more manifest in the migrating journey of O’ sole mio, showing the compliance of Elvis Presley’s version with American mainstream song norms.  However, market conventions also include the need to stress the Italian flavour as an essential element in a love song of seduction. First of all, Elvis Presley’s full-throated and heart-felt singing style is in line with bel canto. The use of a mandolin in the orchestra accompaniment, an instrument traditionally associated with Italian folk music, is clearly meant to provide local colour, too. However, those are rather superficial “exoticizing” clues, with the foreign being encapsulated, and diluted, in a stereotype. They are perfectly in line with the conventional image of Italy as the country of melody and sensual romance needed for the American market.

An on-going process of creative hybridization

If the American migration of ‘O sole mio’ were to be concluded here, It’s now or never could be mostly studied as one more eloquent example of unbalanced power relations in translational experiences in both literature and music.  

With the post-World War I decades European popular culture embraced America’s popular songs wholesale [...] The process continued for the rest of the century. […] in popular music and popular culture, America now “dictated the world”. (Tawa 2005: 27).

No doubt, the evolution of the Neapolitan song into It’s now or never supports those critical positions in Translation Studies that lament the predominance of domesticating strategies in Anglo-American translation practice and culture (in particular, Venuti 2008: 1-34). However, the case of Elvis Presley’s It’s now or never is more subtle and multifaceted, especially if better contextualized within a prolonged and complex process of translational growth. This American hit has been an exceptional sustaining force for ‘O sole mio, almost igniting its “second life” (Del Bosco 2006: 84). The overseas journey of Capurro and Di Capua’s song overlaps and interrelates with actual human migration. It lives and shares cultural translation experiences, which cannot be understood through a perspective that only allows for binary divisions and dialectical polarization, such as “domestication” vs. “foreignization”. When approached with an alternative optic, the American translational journey of  ‘O sole mio reveals a very interesting form of resistance, “a will to survival [that] presents a way out of the binary dilemmas” (Pym 2010: 145). Tony Martin’s and Dean Martin’s There’s no tomorrow, as well as Elvis Presley’s It’s now or never, are necessary crucial steps in this translational story, since they generate an on-going and complex articulation of difference and negotiation, resulting in multiple forms of hybridization.

What is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond narratives of originary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences. These ‘in-between’ spaces provide terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood [...] that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration. (Bhabha 2004: 2)

As we have seen, both There’s no tomorrow and It’s now or never, although fully complying with American conventions and ostensibly rewriting Capurro’s and Di Capua’s song, still preserve the bond with ‘O sole mio, if only for its captivating melody and its “cultural appeal”. It does not matter if this “local flavour” is no longer genuine and sounds somewhat stereotypical and “cross-bred”. What is important is that the song lives on, modified and modifying at the same time. It travels well beyond Italian migrant communities and reaches once unimaginable audiences, who unavoidably receive it according to their specific historical and cultural backgrounds. Accelerated by Tony Martin’s, Dean Martin’s and Elvis Presley’s hits, the process of creative hybridization soon becomes multi-dimensional and multi-directional, challenging national and regional boundaries while also transgressing cultural and music genre categorizations.

Limiting the focus to the American progress of the song from the migrating point of view, namely “the minoritarian perspective”, to say it in Bhabha ‘s words (Bhabha 2004: XVII), an interesting case to be observed is the hybridized version launched by an Italian American singer Frank Verna in 1962, Facimel’a twist (‘O sole mio). It is a thorough rewriting of ‘O sole mio, a striking creolization of both music and language. Its rhythm is accelerated and the Mediterranean melody of ‘O sole mio, with the inevitable addition of mandolins, meet the African American dance craze of the moment, the twist. Not surprisingly, it is also a completely new text, written moreover in the pidgin English spoken by second/third generation Italian immigrants in the USA. “If you should ever go to sunny Italy/you find our paisans there/are singing Facimel’a twist/no tarantella più bella twist...”[16].

The lyrics are in English, but with important Italo-American invasions. First of all, paisans in the second line. As the Urban Dictionary online explains, paisan is a word used with Italians or Italian Americans when they are informally, but in a friendly manner, addressing one another. It means "brother" or "fellow countryman" and is shortened from paisano. In Verna’s song the plural form paisans is used, but it is an English plural form, by adding “s”, not an Italian one (the Italian form would have been paisani): a perfect example of creolization in one single word. The title and refrain, Facimel’a twist (let’s make it a twist), is another example. It is the imperative first person plural form from the Neapolitan language, but it is misspelled. It should be written, and pronounced, with double mm, facimmela, but the phonemic distinction between m and mm is often missed by English speakers. Moreover, as in the preceding example, a rule of English grammar is easily applied to a foreign word. In the refrain Facimel’a twist the Italian personal pronoun la, attached to the Neapolitan imperative verb facimme, is contracted to join the English article a

The song opens with the classic dream of any immigrant, the hope to visit one’s home country, taking up the idea that Italy and sunshine are the same. It is an indirect allusion to ‘O sole mio leading to the refrain with the well-known melody, unmistakable although arranged as a twist. At any rate, the reference could hardly be more evident in a 1962 music video of the song accessible in SonicHits webpage[17]. Here Verna’s Facimel’a twist (O sole mio) openly asserts its source. The video opens on a close-up of the cover of Verna’s 45 vinyl record, with Caruso’s ‘O sole mio as the soundtrack. Caruso’s singing goes on while Verna’s record is replaced by the image of a gramophone; then a hand comes into view pulling the record out of its cover and preparing it to be played by the gramophone. ‘O sole mio finally fades out and Facimel’a twist begins. Unlike Dean Martin, who sings ‘O sole mio as the conclusion of There’s no tomorrow, Verna’s courageous hybridization asserts the connection of Facimel’a twist to ‘O sole mio from the beginning of the video. At the same time, its distance from the source song is equally stressed. If Dean Martin performs There’s no tomorrow and ‘O sole mio as if they were two parts of the same song, although with different texts and in different languages, Verna prefers not to sing ‘O sole mio himself and gives way to Caruso’s 1916 classic recording (a musically and vocally very distant text). However, as we have seen, the American progression of ‘O sole mio between Caruso and Verna has not taken place in a vacuum, but has evolved through important translational episodes. New layers have been added. Such an articulate story of domestication, negotiation and difference is at this point intrinsically part of the substratum of the song and necessarily takes part in its ongoing migration. Thus, alongside Caruso’s ‘O sole mio, other intertextual presences can be detected in Facimel’a twist. It is the case of the stereotypical reference to tarantella as an Italian national feature (Di Capua’s ‘O sole mio is definitely not a tarantella), or the use of mandolins and, above all, an easy-going invitation to enjoy love and not to miss the opportunity. They are all in line with the American translational progression of ‘O sole mio as shown by both There’s no tomorrow and It’s now or never.

Back to Naples and onwards

Many years later, the process of creative hybridization remains as strong as ever, opening unexpected and innovative sites of negotiation and collaboration. In his 2005 album Iguana cafè – Latin Blues e Melodie, Neapolitan singer and songwriter Pino Daniele introduces his very personal cover of It’s now or never. Strictly speaking, Pino Daniele is no emigrant and is always aware of his deep personal links with his hometown, Naples. Yet his whole artistic quest is in a certain sense a never-ending migration, until his premature death in January 2015. Since his first album in 1977, Pino Daniele has been a transnational artist, endlessly experimenting and exploring differences in music genres and rhythms, while always preserving its Neapolitan roots, or rather its South Mediterranean nature. His privileged attention is to American music, music of Afro-American origins, rock, jazz, funky and above all blues. This helps him create a personal and innovative musical genre, which he eloquently names tarumbo or taramblù, a creolization of tarantella and blues, chosen as cultural epitomes. However, his artistic migration includes also Caribbean and African music, with an immense number of artistic collaborations, fully confirming that “music might enhance our sense of sociality and community, because of its great potential for providing shared experiences that are corporeal, emotional and full of potential meaning for the participants” (Hesmondagh 2012, quoted by Susam-Saraeva 2015: 37). The transcultural nature of Pino Daniele’s music is already evident in the CD he made before the album Iguana cafè containing his cover of It’s now or never. The CD Medina in 2001, with the contribution of Mali singer Salif Keita and Turkish musician Omar Farouk, stresses how the very concept of “Neapolitanness” can remain meaningful only if understood as part of a continuous cultural evolution. It is quintessentially a multifaceted and transcultural progression, linking and fusing together migrating voices and stories of marginalization from the multifaceted “South of the World”: Naples as the South of Italy, Italy and the Mediterranean countries as the South of Europe as well as of richer Western Countries like North America, and finally, black Africa as the South of all Western Countries, this time including the South of Italy as well.

This gives a unique undertone to Pino Daniele’s It’s now or never. The credits on the CD are worth noticing: “It’s now or never − written by Schroeder, Di Capua, Gold”. If Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold are the obvious credits for Presley’s hit, Di Capua is the lyricist of ‘O sole mio. It makes one wonder why the Neapolitan poet is credited in between the adapters of  Presley’s It’s now or never. The opening is still Elvis Presley’s song. Even its lyrics are not translated. Thus, by “transporting himself into the Other’s language” and lyrics, Pino Daniele leads his listeners to a different place and time. The decision of not translating and singing in “the Other’s language”, is always a meaningful choice for a singer, as thoroughly explored by Susam Saraeva (2015: 39-62). Also Dean Martin had performed in another language, when singing ‘O sole mio as the mirror image of There’s no Tomorrow, but we have seen that his position and objectives were different. In Pino Daniele’s It’s now or never, although the lyrics are not changed, Elvis Presley’s song is subtly worked on: different rhythm, instruments, arrangement, and, above all, an entirely different approach to performing and singing. The admixture is easily perceivable in a 2006 music video[18]. Pino Daniele is sitting and playing a guitar, accompanied by an assorted group of classic and ethnic instruments and musicians. The economic use of instruments and a sober stage design create a deliberately less glamorous atmosphere. Pino sings the first part of It’s now or never, with his singular voice, warm and soft. He then shifts to the opening lyrics and language of Capua’s ‘O sole mio, to finally go back to It’s now or never for the concluding chorus. He thus offers a unique song, which is both homage to Elvis Presley and American blues as well as a powerful response and expression of resistance to Anglo-American mainstream music from this side of the Ocean. A “simultaneous identification and distancing mechanism” is at work, resulting in an interesting case of intimate distance, as the ethnomusicologist Bigenho describes similar  “ways of feeling simultaneously oh so close to and yet still so far from an Other”(Bigenho 2012: 25, quoted in Susam-Saraeva 2015: 51). If code switching in a song is already a meaningful organizational and aesthetic device meant to achieve both localization and globalization (Davies 2013: 248), in this song there is much more, from text and linguistic switching to cultural hybridization and artful music contamination. It is a brilliant example of a culturally heterogeneous song, and a positive testimony to Pino Daniele’s continual efforts in establishing multiple bridges which, however, are never meant to erase all peculiarities, reaching “ultimate sameness or unity” (Susam-Saraeva 2015: 52).

A positive gesture of transcultural intimacy

The concept of transcultural intimacy, a collective intimacy beyond and across nations (a main notion in Susam-Saraeva 2015), opens new perspectives in this research. Pino Daniele’s song clearly contributes to the building of a shared “we”. By bringing together languages, lyrics, rhythms, as well as assorted instruments and musicians, Pino Daniele’s It’s now or never points to a diversified and multifaceted “we”, so as to include people from Naples and the South-Mediterranean as well as Afro-Americans and Anglo-Americans. It opens the way to further development in the same direction of transcultural intimacy, as shown by the following polysemiotic hybridization of ‘O sole mio.

Understandably enough, ‘O sole mio has been co-opted by innumerable jazz singers all over the world. Among them, Mario Bellavista, a jazz pianist from Palermo, should be noted. Bellavista, who is a lawyer by profession, has recently recorded an album entitled O sole mio, which is also one of its eight tracks. The CD was completely recorded in New York on November 30th 2011, with a jazz ensemble of Italian and American artists, Mario Bellavista New York Quintet: Jerry Weldon, tenor sax; Eric Miller, trombone; Mario Bellavista, piano; Harvie S, acoustic bass; Mimmo Cafiero, drums[19]. The album cover is embellished with suggestive paintings by Beatrice Feo Filangeri, images that pictorially evoke the renewed and happy encounter of ‘O sole mio with New York (Jazzy Records 2012). Mario Bellavista’s idea of bringing back the Neapolitan song to New York, involving American artists in the experience, is a conscious step towards a shared we.

Siamo abituati a lasciarci chiaramente influenzare dalle sonorità jazz americane [...] io al contrario volevo importare delle suggestioni tipiche della tradizione italiana, e farle assimilare da musicisti americani [we are used to let us get influenced by American jazz sound […] instead my wish was to import suggestive features from Italian music and get American musicians to absorb them] (Unsigned article 2013).

In a video interview accessible online, Bellavista points out that the three American artists warmly welcomed his proposal and even actively contributed to the arrangements[20]. Naturally enough, all of them are present in the music video dedicated to this jazz version of ‘O sole mio[21]. It is a striking video, following Bellavista’s wanderings through the heart of New York, guided by the melodic jazz version of ‘O sole mio. Bellavista moves around New York by car but he does not do the driving. So he can better observe and enjoy. Although he is often in the video, it is mostly his privileged perspective that guides the camera, which contributes to making these images so personal and incisive.

In this sophisticated music video, ‘O sole mio goes back to New York once again. New York was the port of arrival in the USA for so many Italian migrants and as such it certainly has an important symbolic value in the video. By bringing  ‘O sole mio back to New York, Bellavista inevitably evokes the past migration of his fellow countrymen. However, this jazz version looks back and forwards at the same time. Bellavista’s music video no longer expresses a typical experience of migration. The ‘O sole mio inherited by Bellavista is a popular song that has been through a complex journey to Northern America and through American culture. Thanks to Pino Daniele’s It’s now or never, it has even experienced a return to the home country, which, however, it would be reductive to define as all the way. Along the journey the song has taken on many more layers, opening to Afro-American rhythms and developing transcultural dimensions. Therefore, Bellavista’s musical, visual and symbolic journey through the streets of New York is the result of a process of hybridization that tends to become more complex and intimate at the same time. Through all these layers, however, what has been preserved is the inner soul of ‘O sole mio and the power of popular music to strengthen people’s sense of sociality and community, as shown by the video in its distinctive insistence on street music scenes and innumerable smiling faces. Bigenho observes that “there is something intimate about playing music with others” (2012: 176), which is fully confirmed by Bellavista’s own words:

L’altra parte del mondo a volte è più vicina di quanto non si possa immaginare. Ciò che sembra lontano a volte è molto vicino o addirittura dentro di noi. Grazie a Harvie, Jerry and Eric, che mi hanno fatto sentire più italiano. Grazie a Mimmo che mi ha fatto sentire più americano. [The other side of the world is sometimes closer than you could imagine. What we think to be very far, is very close to us, or even inside us at times. Thanks to Harvie, Jerry and Eric, who have helped me feel more Italian. Thanks to Mimmo, who has helped me feel more American] (Bellavista 2011b: CD cover).

It is an important admission of transcultural intimacy and an implicit acknowlegment of the creative value of translational hybridization.


The opening question of this article, whether music can foster complex processes of cultural translation, finds a compellingly positive answer in the long migration of ‘O sole mio. After all, it is its captivating passionate melody that has mostly driven the translational journey of the song, favouring the multifaceted encounters that mark out its exceptional progress. This opens broader contexts for research in popular song translation, while calling for more challenge-based approaches. To start with, flexibility is paramount. Narrow distinctions between “song translation proper”, intralingua translation, non-translation and adaptation become irrelevant in the articulated transformation of this popular song. And in this regard the article could not agree more with Susam-Saraeva’s statements.

Such a flexible view of translation and music might be unacceptable for many scholars […] [Yet] A broader approach to translation and music might reveal precisely what makes the topic such a fascinating area of research for other scholars (Susam-Saraeva  2008:189).

Focussing on the migrating progress undergone by ‘O sole mio, and the successive layers of meaning created by its many incarnations, the analysis stresses how the vital connection to the Neapolitan song is always preserved, even in its more radical metamorphoses. This leads to a view of the journey as an ongoing process of translational development. Studying this progress as a translational continuum, rather than as a series of detached episodes of transformation, the article highlights the transcultural value gradually acquired by this popular song. The adage that music is a migrant art par excellence is fully confirmed, in all its implications, starting from its hybridizing potentialities and openness to the provocative and inspirational acts of cultural translation we have studied here.

Moreover, the case study offers also a bottom-up endorsement of  core theoretical notions within Cultural Translation Studies. As we have seen, the so-called Neapolitan songs have vague origins and Naples itself has always given signs of being an open-air workshop on resistance and cultural hybridization (Pesc and Stazio 2013: 20). All this convincingly demonstrates that it is crucial “to think beyond narratives of originary and initial subjectivities” (Bhabha 2004: 2). Researchers in popular song translation should be aware that monolithic notions such as authenticity and cultural specificity as well as musical genre do not easily engage with their research, as this exemplary story of popular song migration amply confirms. Moreover, the translational evolution of ‘O sole mio problematizes the very idea of migration, first of all by blurring the boundaries between internal and external migration, but also by including what we could call return migrations, leading to further forms of hybridization and transcultural evolution.

Music and Cultural Translation Studies can be precious allies. It is a “fascinating area of research”, but at present it is, for the most part, still uncharted. Stronger contributions and greater contaminations from both study areas can be a way to go beyond traditional research-field boundaries, providing terrain for perspectives and innovative studies. However, we should be aware that high-level expertise and integrated competences in both Music and Cultural Translation Studies are highly desirable, but hard to find. Pioneering collaboration among scholars from the two different fields is therefore to be hoped for as one possible solution. Therefore, the concluding remark of the present article would like to be a deliberate open call for joint efforts in that direction.


All translations are by the author unless otherwise indicated.


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Discography and Videos

Bellavista, Mario and New York Quintet (2012) O sole mio, Piazza Armerina, Enna, Jazzy Records – URL: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2t6d51MqkU0]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2t6d51MqkU0[/url] (Youtube 27 February 2017 – last accessed 29 March 2019).

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Capurro, Giovanni and Edoardo Di Capua (1916) ‘O sole mio, sung by Enrico Caruso, on Victor 87243 HMV – URL: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_ybjI6KIcs]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_ybjI6KIcs[/url]  (Youtube 16 June 2014 – last accessed 29 March 2019).

Daniele, Pino (2005) It’s Now or Never, in Iguana Café – Latin Blues e Melodie, RCA-Sony BMG no. 828767967721– URL: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKHZECpUSxo&feature=kp]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKHZECpUSxo&feature=kp[/url] (YouTube October 2009 – last accessed 29 March 2019).

Harrison, Charles W. (1915) My Sunshine / O sole mio, Edison Blue Amberol, No 2594 –URL: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-F6yRzRGgU]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-F6yRzRGgU[/url] (Youtube 13 January  2012 – last accessed 29 March 2019).

Hoffman, Al, Leo Corday and Leon Carr (1949), There’s no tomorrow, sung by Tony Martin, RCA Victor Records No. 47–3078–A – URL: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5KxsUoG83o]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5KxsUoG83o[/url]  (Youtube 23 September 2013 – last accessed 29 March 2019).

---------- (1949) There’s no tomorrow, sung by Dean Martin, Martin and Lewis Radio Show, 28 November – URL: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmUwQPM9Ojo]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmUwQPM9Ojo[/url] (Youtube 2 August 2010 – last accessed 29 March 2019).

--------- (1962) There’s no tomorrow, sung by Dean Martin, in Italian Love Songs, Capitol Records, ST–1659 – URL: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULfG7GmlEWU]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULfG7GmlEWU[/url] (Youtube 21 February 2017 – last accessed 31 March 2019).

--------- (1951) There’s no tomorrow, by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Colgate Comedy Hour, 20 May – URL: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkqcZDd1oLI]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkqcZDd1oLI[/url] (last accessed 29 March 2019).

Schroeder, Aaron and Wally Gold (1960) It’s Now or Never sung by Elvis Presley, RCA Records No 45N–1088
 URL: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uwelrtb8Oho]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uwelrtb8Oho[/url] (Youtube 15 December 2013 – last accessed 29 March 2019).

Verna, Frank (1962) Facimel’a twist (O’ sole mio), RI FI Variety No F10032 URL: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5ABm2rSoBY]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5ABm2rSoBY[/url] (Youtube 14 December 2013 – accessed 29 March 2019).


[1] Research includes important articles and dedicated chapters, as well as of international conferences inside and  outside Europe (among them, “Theme: Image, Music, Text…? Translating Multimodalities”, Portsmouth University 6 November 2010; “Cultural Translation in Popular Music”, Tennessee University 12-13 April 2013; “Translation in Music”, Cardiff University 25-26 June 2014; “How is Music Translated Today? Intersemiotic, Intralingual and Intersensorial Transfers across Musical Genres”, Europe House, London July 5 2015; “Traduction, Rythme, Musique/Music, Rhythm, Translation”, Université de Lausanne 28-9 April 2016; “Musicult’17”, Istanbul 9-10 June 2017). Important monographs and special issues have also been published on the topic: The Translator, special issue on music and translation (14:2, 2008); Maia – Music & Arts in Action, special issue on music and migration (3:3, 2011); JoSTrans – The Journal of Specialized Translation, special issue on the translation of multimodal texts (19, 2013); finally, Minors’ monograph, Music, Text and Translation (London 2013),  Susam-Saraeva’s Translation and Popular Music – Transcultural Intimacy in Turkish-Greek Relations (Oxford 2015) and Low’s Translating Songs. Lyrics and Texts (London/New York 2017).

[2] Calascione is a guitar or lute with two or three strings, which was used especially in Southern Italy.

[3] On ‘O sole mio in Proust, see Miller 1997.

[4] Capurro’s lyrics, as well as the literary translations into Italian and English, are from Del Bosco 2006: 17, 119 and 125.

[5] The most famous posteggiatore was Giuseppe Di Francesco, nicknamed ‘O zingariello (the little Gipsy), who Richard Wagner brought to Bayreuth in 1879 and for some years to follow.

[6] It was recorded on Victor 87243 (HMV, 5 February 1916) - accessible at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_ybjI6KIcs.

[7] For an exhaustive discussion of the issue of the absence of linguistic mediation in the migration of popular music, see Susam-Saraeva 2015: 39-62.

[8] For a debate on “logocentric” and “musicocentric” songs, see Gorlée 1997 and Low 2013: 72.

[9] On “singable translation”, a form of translation intended to enable an existing vocal text to be performed in a different language, often tarnished by translators’ narrow conception of their task as essentially a linguistic one, see Low 2013a: 73.

[10] Lyrics to There’s No Tomorrow are taken from Del Bosco 2015: 82. 

[11] Videos of Tony Martin’s interpretation can be accessed on line. See in particular https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5KxsUoG83o (last accessed 29 March 2019).

[12] Videos of Dean Martin’s interpretations can be accessed on line. See in particular https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmUwQPM9Ojo (last accessed 29 March 2019), and for the vaudeville show with Jerry Lewis, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkqcZDd1oLI (last accessed 29 March 2019).

[13]For a discussion of domestication in Translation Studies, see in particular Venuti 2008 and Munday 2001.

[14] Lyrics to It’s Now or Never are taken from Del Bosco 2015: 83−4.

[15] There are several Youtube footages and videos of It’s Now or Never by Elvis Presley that can be accessed on line. Among others, for his 1960 recording of the song, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhA1SuNUIZw. For other interpretations where Presley rather follows Schroeder and Gold’s lyrics, without opening the song with the chorus, see the 1976 live footage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqV2BYr_r4E .

[16] Frank Verna’s Facimel’a Twist (‘O sole mio) is accessible on line at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39_ivFf54Ng.

[19] The album is accessible online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2t6d51MqkU0.

[20] The interview (Palermo, February 14th 2013), is accessible online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8Du1J5GFg8.

[21] The music video is accessible at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSFZvrlFKDw.

About the author(s)

Anna Fochi, BA at the University of Pisa, Italy; Ph. D.in Translation Studies, University of Glasgow, UK. She is currently co-operating with Cardiff University, School of European Studies, as an Honorary Research Fellow. Main field of interest: translation criticism with special focus on intersemiotic translation (cinema and literature, painting and literature) and poetry translation. Other fields of interest: English and Italian literatures. Publications: articles in “Translation Studies”, “InTRAlinea” “New Readings”, “Westerly”, "Studi di filologia e letteratura", "Italianistica", “Critica letteraria”, “Contesti”, “Lingua e letteratura”, “Educazione permanente”, “Iter”, “Lend”. Editor and translator of an anthology of John Keats’s letters (Oscar Mondadori: Milan).

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©inTRAlinea & Anna Fochi (2019).
"A Translational Continuum The Multiform Migration of the Iconic Song 'O sole mio"
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