Everybody know this tune and every tenor sings it. Below is the Italian text followed by an English translation. Just in case anyone is new to opera, the aria occurs near the beginning of the third act of Puccini’s Tosca.
E lucevan le stelle,
ed olezzava la terra
stridea l’uscio dell’orto
ed un passo sfiorava l’arena.
Entrava ella fragrante,
mi cadea tra le braccia.
O dolci baci, o languide carezze,
mentr’io fremente le belle forme disciogliea dai veli!
Svanì per sempre il sogno mio d’amore.
L’ora è fuggita, e muoio disperato!
E non ho amato mai tanto la vita!
How the stars used to shine there,
How sweet the earth smelled,
The orchard gate would creak,
And a footstep would lightly crease the sand.
She’d come in, fragrant as a flower,
And she’d fall into my arms.
Oh! sweet kisses, oh! lingering caresses,
Trembling, I’d slowly uncover her dazzling beauty.
Now, my dream of love has vanished forever.
My last hour has flown, and I die, hopeless!
And never have I loved life more!
The platinum standard for this aria was, without a doubt, set by Giuseppe Di Stefano (1921-2008). His singing has everything – beauty of tone, eloquent diction, passion, and dynamic shading that get’s every last ounce of the great song’s emotional content. And if all this weren’t enough he makes it all sound easy, just like Joe DiMaggio made playing baseball seem easy. E lucevan le stelle Di Stefano
Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) who recorded the aria several times took a more direct approach. He used less changes in dynamics, singing the piece with full voice throughout. Of course, when you have a voice like Caruso’s this is a valid way to sing the number.
E lucevan le stelle – Caruso
Richard Tucker (1913-1975) sang the aria in the same style as did Caruso. This works when you are a full voiced spinto as was the great American tenor. There’s no fooling around with “disciogliea”; he just belts it out. If you’re going to sing this full speed ahead, this is a good as it gets. E lucevan le stelle -Richard Tucker
Surprisingly an even fuller voiced spinto, Franco Corelli (1921-2003), is able to take a smorzando on “disciogliea”. His performance is a dazzling tour de force, but it doesn’t have the emotional content of Di Stefano nor does he have the innate vocal beauty of his countryman and exact contemporary. E lucevan le stelle – Corelli
Jussi Björling (1911-1960) sang Cavaradossi 16 times at the old Met. His voice was a little light for the role and/or the house was a little too big. His singing was beautiful, just a little hard to hear. Of the singers, mentioned in this article I heard Di Stefano, Tucker, Corelli, and Björling in performance in this role (all at the Met). Live or on records Pippo was the best. Björling on records was terrific. His beautiful voice handled all the score’s difficulties without a problem. His piano singing was quite good if not as spectatcular as Di Stefano or Corelli. E lucevan le stelle - Björling
Joseph Schmidt (1904-1942) recorded this aria both in German and Italian and both live and in the studio. His reading shows his dusky and unique voice at it’s best – actually it was always at its best. His vocal line is exemplary and his top easy and focused. One of the 20th century’s greatest tenors. E lucevan le stelle Schmidt
Miguel Fleta (1892-1938) is now best remembered as the first Calaf in Puccini’s Turandot. His career was short, but brilliant. He was famous for his extraordinary messa di voce which was combined with a very large spinto voice. On this recording you can hear him at both his best and worst. His filatura being the former and the hysterics that end the aria the latter. E lucevan le stelle – Fleta
Alfred Piccaver (1884-1958) was born, in Britain, grew up in the US, and made his career in Vienna. His rendition of the aria is quite lovely except for his idiosyncratic singing of “disciogliea” which he rushes causing him to lose the vocal line for an instant. A fine singer not as well known in the US as he would have been had he sung in New York.
E lucevan le stelle – Piccaver
Finally, a bonbon. Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957) singing the aria as an encore to a concert given in Buenos Aires in 1951 when he was 61. His use of his celebrated messa di voce is over the top and employed to ease strain on his aging voice, but it’s still beautiful and a sound unique to Gigli. The audience, likely full of transplanted Italians, loves it.
E lucevan le stelle Gigli 1951