O Sole Mio – It’s Really Not Italian

by Mariann Grace Lotesoriere

O Sole Mio - Sun

That’s the splendor of the Italian language, an age of romanticism that’s so characteristic of what it means to be Italian.

“’O Sole Mio” is a globally known Neapolitan song written in 1898. Some people consider it to be the most famous Italian song, not only because it’s an all-time hit that several generations remember, but also because, in a way, it represents Italy.

So what does “O Sole Mio” mean?

A good translation would be “My own sunshine.”

The Elvis Presley song, “It’s Now or Never” sung to the same tune, is not a translation at all, it’s just a different set of words put to the same melody.

Here’s the most remarkable aspect of “O Sole Mio,” especially for people from other countries who want to learn Italian. O Sole Mio is actually not standard Italian.

“’O Sole Mio” features the original Neapolitan language. Neapolitan is the language of the city of Naples and all the surrounding area in the Region of Campania.

Italian and Neapolitan resemble each other to some degree linguistically. But there are notable grammatical differences such as neuter-form nouns, unique plural formation, and historical phonological developments differing from traditional Italian. However, like Italian and other romantic languages, Neapolitan evolved from spoken Latin roots.

Languages of Italy Map

Italian is such a rich language to be so spread out in different dialects, specifically the “Neapolitan” language in that particular region.

This might shock you, though: the language has no official status in Italy with no priority in education. The Università Federico II in Naples offers courses in Campanian Dialectology at the faculty of Sociology, aiming not to teach students the language, but rather to study its history, usage, literature and social role.

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“Che bella cosa ‘na iurnata ‘e sole…” What a beautiful thing is a sunny day!

The words and music instantly and magically transport you back in time to Italy where love and sunshine create a mix of what it means today to be Italian: joy for life! O Sole Mio is a great example of that joy.

How O Sole Mio Began

A journalist and editor of the cultural pages of the newspaper “Roma” of Naples named Giovanni Capurro, supposedly inspired by a radiant sunrise over the Black Sea, wrote the lyrics. In 1898, he entrusted a singer and songwriter by the name of Eduardo di Capua to compose the music.

A Long Way to the Top!

Sponsored by the publisher “Bideri,” that song was sent to Naples for a music competition. However, the song received second place without much recognition at all. Nevertheless it soon gained much more success in Italy and around the world, becoming part of the world’s music heritage.

The Amazing Repertoire of Performers!

Some of the Italian melodies out there exist in enough creativity for English artists to pay homage to the romantic language. Elvis Presley is one of them, taking “O Sole Mio” to a tremendous level in romantic music.

It’s sad that the original writers died poor, because many performers in several different genres have made millions since then performing O Sole Mio.

Notable performers include: Luciano Pavarotti, Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Mario Lanza, The Canadian Tenors, The Three Tenors, Anna Oxa, Bryan Adams, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Vitas, Al Bano and of course Elvis Presley with “It’s Now or Never”.

This 1960s Elvis Presley version — “It’s Now or Never” — sold over ten million copies, making it the most sold song of Elvis Presley’s career.

“It’s Now or Never”, however has just the same melody as “’O Sole Mio”, the lyrics are not a translation.

Another famous version of the song made in English was by Bill Haley & his Comets, called “Come Rock With Me”. This remake, same as Presley’s, has only the same tune.

Pavarotti did the best O Sole Mio interpretation

But Luciano Pavarotti holds the title for best interpretation — hands down.

In 1980 he won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Performance for his rendition of the song.

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Tell Us Your Favorite “O Sole Mio” Story

This song has been a very popular song for a very long time.  If you have a favorite story about how it touched you, please share it below.

Historic Recordings of O Sole Mio

The Library of Congress has a historic recording of O Sole Mio available that you might enjoy.


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    Great you’re calling attention to this. One quick thing: The lyrics were written in Naples by Capurro and De Capua set it to music while on tour in Russia.

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      Thanks for the information!

      Thomas Wyse

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    I feel like God put a special part in our brains that causes us to react very positively to music such as this. It is so beautiful. You feel like you’ve witnessed a miracle when you hear something like this.

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    I have very fond memories of my father singing, at least a part, of the song while I was growing up.
    It is unfortunate that they died financially poor. I hope they were spiritually rich.
    I think, more than financially, they would be happy that the song has brought joy to others.

    Thank you for the information.

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    O Sole Mio by the great Beniamino Gigli is, certainly in a class of its own. It cannot be surpassed.

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    My thought is simple & since I don’t know the language, I may be totally incorrect in my thinking. My grandparents immigrated from the Campania region of Italy. While studying birth certificates, I realized the correct spelling of their surname is Solimeno which leads me into the beautiful song.

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    Mark Gargiulo

    My family name is Gargiulo which is a very Neapolitan name. My great grandfather came from Sorrento. I personally think this is one of the most beautiful areas of the world. I am a trained opera singer butt at this point don’t make that my living room. I sang this song many times in my career and that along with Torna a suriento ( Come back to Sorrento. Can bring me to tears!! When I sang these songs I couldn’t help think about this beautiful part of the world!! I also think often about my family leaving this beautiful place to come to America. It must’ve been very hard to leave there. I’m sure Signor Capua De Curtis are smiling in heaven every time someone sings these beautiful melodies!!

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    Gene Poole

    Isn’t it ” ’o sole mio ” – the ” ’o ” being the definite article? That’s what I was told anyway.

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    Anna Gochnauer

    My Nanny (grandma) just passed away in July of this year, 2018. She used to sing this to me when I was a child. My name is Anna Marie. She would sing to me her own version. “O solo mio, Anna Maria…” She would hum the rest of the melody, as she didn’t know the rest. Thank you for giving meaning to this find memory.

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    Crazy as it may sound, my mother and grandmother used to run from the room screaming any time this song was played. For some reason, they deemed it “bad luck”. But I just don’t know why. Has anyone else heard of this?

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    Dr. Thomas Hazzard

    I am a 96 year old WW II vet. and I am singing in church the first refrain in the first language written as the introduction to the Christian version with the title “Down From His Glory”. My wife, 101yrs old,, and I sang a duet two Sundays ago in two services the same morning.

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    Mario Macaluso

    No, it is not. It is a sound that precedes a vocative expression such as
    “O say can you see…” (National Anthem)

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    Louise Damato

    My grandparents came from Naples and Bari. We are a large family of singers and all the Italian songs were a big part of our lives growing up. O Sole Mio was my father’s favorite. When he passed away I asked the church organist if she could play it during the service. She said she could only play hymns. I researched and found the hymn “Down from His Glory” which was written to the tune of O Sole Mio and she played it on the huge church organ during the service. You can only imagine how exquisite the sounds filling the Church were which brought us all to tears.

    • Brent Van Arsdell
      Brent Van Arsdell

      What a wonderful story.

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