As his life drew to an end, Giacomo Puccini penned one of opera’s most celebrated arias, Nessun Dorma. Immortalised in turn by Luciano Pavarotti (and the accompanying drama of football’s 1990 World Cup), Nessun Dorma then broke into the mainstream as one of the few operatic pieces likely to be recognised by the man on the street.
And now it will be greeted by many more – after finally receiving its ‘Made in China’ makeover.
Last Sunday, Cai Hongping won standing ovations on television show China’s Got Talent as she sang Puccini’s rousing melody to lyrics of her own devising.
The Anhui native – who unlike the late Italian tenor performs in a Hello Kitty apron – runs a market stall but told the judges she loves Pavarotti and his signature tune.
The problem, Cai said, was that she couldn’t understand Nessun Dorma’s lyrics. So she made up some of her own instead – matching the melody with Chinese words.
Mrs Cai has a fine voice and hits all the high notes at the aria’s conclusion. But her own version (translated into English below) deviates somewhat from Puccini’s original, which celebrated the courtship of a cold princess by a young princely suitor. Mrs Cai opts for more of a culinary theme, which goes something like this:
Chicken legs, chicken wings, duck legs, duck wings
Celery, cilantro, cabbage, peppers
String beans, broad beans, green olives
Come buy them quickly
I’ll give you spring onions for free…
The judges, impressed by Cai’s innovative take on the original, were also taken with the commercial spin that she was giving the old classic. Cai says that she sings it on her market stall to lure customers, and that the last line on spring onions is the clincher in closing the deal with shoppers.
But the plucky 55 year-old also feels she has done the aria a great service, as “everyone in China can understand my lyrics now”.
Maybe. Although the potential for cross-cultural confusion at Nessun Dorma’s next rendition at La Scala would also seem to have gone up a notch.
No matter: footage of Mrs Cai in action has now been clicked more than 33 million times on video-sharing site Youku, a testimony to her popularity. The Morning Express also writes that the phrase ‘I’ll give you spring onions for free’ has become a favourite online. Not to understand what it means is a sign of being a bit out of touch.
Inevitably, Cai is getting plaudits as the latest in a line of gifted vocalists plucked from obscurity by TV talent shows, in the style of Britain’s Susan Doyle and Paul Potts (the latter, a phone salesman, also shot to fame singing Nessun Dorma).
To watch Cai’s performance, use this link to the Youtube clip:
Keeping track: In WiC109, we described the vocal antics of Cai Hongping, a contestant on the second season of China’s Got Talent. She won rapturous applause for her rendition of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, which she sang in Chinese (not knowing Italian, she made up her own lyrics, ending the melody with the line ‘I’ll give you spring onions for free’). Last Sunday, was the talent show finale, held in Shanghai Stadium and featuring – among others – British singer Susan Boyle.
Sadly, for Cai she came runner-up, losing out to 19 year-old Zhuo Jun, a self-taught body-popper. (Jul 15, 2011)
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