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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.

Do You Want to Learn Italian?

If you want to learn Italian, you may want to try some of the free lessons from around the web to see which ones you like the most. Click on this Italian flag to try the Italian program that I like. Try it and see if you like it.

 

“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.

Do You Want to Learn Italian?

If you are interested in learning Italian, you may want to try some

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.

 

30 Comments
  • Avatar
    Kathy

    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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    • Avatar
      thomas

      Thanks for the information!

      Thomas Wyse

       
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  • Avatar
    tomas

    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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  • Avatar
    Kim

    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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  • Avatar
    GiovDeMartino

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

     
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    Nancy

    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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    • Avatar
      Diane Łowiczanka

      I love hearing Mario Lanza sing it. He just lets it rip, and my heart bursts!! I used to think that it was O Solo Mio, but turns out it is O Sole Mio… with an ‘e’… meaning My Sunshine… A very happy song that makes me smile…

       
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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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    Chrissy

    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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      Helene G

      I am of Italian heritage, and my grandfather used to whistle “O Sole Mio” and “Torna a Surriento” all the time. Whenever I heard it, I knew he was thinking of his homeland.

      Somewhat related, my cousin once had a Mercury Marquis, and the horn played the first few notes of “O Sole Mio,” which he’d play for the whole neighborhood.

      May they both rest in peace.

       
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  • Avatar
    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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  • Avatar
    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.

     
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    • Brent Van Arsdell
      Brent Van Arsdell

      What a wonderful story.

       
      Reply
  • Avatar
    Robert Goodwin

    Amira sings O Sole Mio with someone . I can’t remember his name. It is
    beautiful. Amira will bring tears of joy to you, especially from her appearance on Holland has Talent seen on U Tube.

     
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  • Avatar
    Edna Brennan

    My grandfather was from Naples, my mothers name was Petricco she is 94 and lives with me now but Mario Lanza would belt this out in our home when I was a little girl and all his music filled our home. O Sole Mio-wonderful

     
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  • Avatar
    Donald R Campbell

    Even listening to O Solo Mio in my head can still bring tears of emotion to my eyes.
    What a lovely, powerful song! Thank you Italy.

     
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  • Avatar
    Xuyang Chen

    I got to the know the song’s name when I was 20 years old. I am 31 years old now.
    The famous singer Lucciano Pavarotti had passed away when I was a college student in 2007. I love his very inspiring performance. It is 2019.Modern technologies and devices keep growing. But the absence of the traditional spirit and classical culture in this mordern world made me think that the young generation has the obligatory to succeed the essence well.

     
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  • Avatar
    Clementina

    I left Italy with my parents at the age of nine. I feel so fortunate that I know Italian (also neopolitan) because I cannot imagine listening to all the beautiful songs and operas and not understanding the words. It’s all lost in translation!

     
    Reply
  • Avatar
    RT

    Thank you! for calling attention to the beautiful linguistic diversity of the peninsula called Italy, which is nowadays unified as a nation, but, yes, notably very recently compared to many other countries. It’s always pleasant, but frankly a surprise, to encounter someone who is aware, maybe just vaguely, that there does exist a special Neapolitan kind of speech, or Venetian speech, for instance, that is somehow different than what’s in the menu at Olive Garden or in the tourist Italian phrasebook. But often the language variation is misunderstood to be no greater than that of the various regions’ accents of an otherwise single Italian language. But it is even more unfortunate, in my opinion, when there is indeed a fuller awareness of the true diversity of, say, Napolitan/Venetian/Friuli/etc, but they are presumed to be “dialects” of, derived(!) from, Standard Italian. Of course, they are all, along with Standard Italian, respectively, dialects, co-dialects(!), of Vernacular Latin. So they are sisters rather than mother and daughters. I just think it is so cool to realize it’s untrue that Latin is a “dead” language, that there never was a moment when communities of everyday people decided that okay, today, we are going to discard Latin and henceforth switch-over(!) to “Italian” (or Tuscan, Neapolitan, Piemontese, or whatever) –or “Spanish,” or Portuguese/Gallego, “French,” Catalán, Occitan, Romanian, etc. etc. etc. It’s so cool to realize that Latin is trucking along just fine in everyday affairs from Moldova to Montréal, to Los Angeles, to Rio and Chile. And, if you’re a lucky person who already knows and loves one Romance language and have the opportunity to travel, it’s really as much fun to go and “taste” (i.e., listen to, and perhaps “try out”) its sister Latin dialects(!) as likewise you’d go out and taste the local food.

     
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    • Avatar
      RT

      PS– And it all started in… Italy! Along with beautiful music across so many centuries, sturdy, hardworking –and beautiful– language is Italy’s great gift to a very wide world. (-:]

       
      Reply
  • Avatar
    LR

    My dads family came from Italy. All the children came up learning the accordion (before the accordion fell from musical grace in the 40’s). I never had the opportunity to meet my grandfather, but I heard many a tale about him serenading my grandmother with his accordion, with O Sole Mio being her most requested tune. She would hum it often when thinking of him, so I grew up with it tucked neatly into my consciousness without ever having taken note of what it was. Here we are, 30 years later, and it will all at once pop into my head from time to time. It’s a lovely song, whether instrumental or vocal and remains a cherished memory for me.

     
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    Christina

    I loved reading and learning all of this! I just came from an Andrea Bocelli concert and this song is the first one he sang tonight to move me (and my husband!) to tears. It’s beautiful!! The remaining four songs he sang were just as powerful but I think I’ll always remember this one best. As I remember, it’s also the first song I ever heard Bocelli sing mmmannnnyy years ago! Now I’m a huge fan of his and listen to him daily. Thanks for the back story on this song. ❤️

     
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  • Avatar
    Jeff Cortese

    I love the song o solo meo, my father used to sing it and my uncle Joe, my favorite was singing it with my father’s uncle Berto, what great memories

     
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    Richard Voith

    I have just fallen in love with a wonderfull young dutch girl, who at 9 years old in 2013 won a gold status on the hollands got talent singing soprano the song,O Mio Babbino Caro. then at around 11 or 12, she did a duet with Patrizio Buanne singing O Sole Mio. I cry every time I see it. It has become a major hit.

     
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    David Wallace

    Carmine Orsini gives a fantastic rendition of o sole mio at the Conca Parc Hotel in Sorrento as well as some other fabulous renditions. A fine reason to tourna Sorrento from Scotland every year to listen to this brilliant tenor. Gracie Range Carmine. Due to visit again 28 May 2020 and pray this Covid 19 is eradicated soon worldwide. So hope to visit again 2021. Stay safe all.

     
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    Patrick Pregiato

    Pavarotti the best interpretation? According to whom?
    Ask any Neapolitan and they will tell you how bad his Neapolitan is. His O Sole Mio is painful!
    He sings it as it is written in Italian with his Modenese inflections.
    “Stai in fronte a te” is pronounced “sta ‘nfrond’a te” is one example.
    Also the final vowels are pronounced with a schwa e which is similar to a final unaccented e in French.
    What I cannot understand is why did he not listen to a recording of Caruso who was a native Neapolitan? He had “Neapolitan dialect coaches” for his albums which is astounding!
    He has essentially ruined the essence of O Sole Mio as his version is now used as a standard for others.
    With all due respect as he was the greatest since Caruso but he should have left Neapolitan songs to the Neapolitans

     
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    Patty

    I have loved this song since I was little, I am 67 now and I sing it to my 92 year old mom. Today I decided to look up what this song I like to sing means. I was pleasantly surprised that it was about the beautiful sun! I will sing this song happily for the rest of my life!

     
    Reply
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