'Va, Pensiero' Song Lyrics

The Famous Hebrew Slaves Chorus from Verdi's 'Nabucco' Translated

"Va, Pensiero," otherwise known as the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, is perhaps the most beloved piece of music from Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Nabucodonosor." It is so well liked that it often is performed twice, the second time as part of an encore. The English translation shows us the parallels Verdi draws between the Hebrews under Assyrian rule and the Italians under the Austrian occupation in the mid-1800s.

Context

Nicknamed "Nabucco," this four-act opera takes place in Jerusalem and Babylon in 583 B.C. It tells the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, and the Hebrews he has enslaved and then subsequently sent into exile. Against this tumultuous background, Verdi also gives us a triangular love story involving the characters of Ismaele, Fenena, and Abigaille.

Grief and Politics

Verdi wrote Nabucco after the failure of his second work, "Un giordo di regno" (King for a Day), and the deaths of his wife and young children. He had vowed never to write another opera, but the impresario of the La Scala opera house, Bartolomeo Merelli, persuaded Verdi to look at another composer's rejected libretto. Once home, Verdi reportedly threw in on the table in disgust, but then glanced down. The words "Va pensiero, sull'ali dorate" inspired him to write "Nabucco." 

Some critics believe that Verdi deliberately makes parallels in this opera between the Hebrews and the Italians, who in Verdi's time were living—some say suffering—under Austrian rule.

In fact, after the curtain fell on the opera's final act at the conclusion of its premiere at La Scala on March 9, 1842, shouts of "Freedom for Italy," came from members of the audience, who recognized themselves in the Hebrews.

The opera is still popular today and has remained a part of the Metropolitan Opera's roster since it premiered there in 1960.

So beloved is this work that when the Metropolitan opened its season 11 days after 9/11, the chorus began by singing "Va, pensiero" in honor of the victims of the attack.

The Chorus 

This song takes place in the opera's third act after the Israelites have been captured and imprisoned in Babylon. It's reportedly this part of the libretto that got Verdi interested in writing the opera. 

Italian Lyrics to "Va, Pensiero"

Va', pensiero, sull'ali dorate;
Va, ti posa sui clivi, sui colli,
ove olezzano tepide e molli
l'aure dolci del suolo natal!
Del Giordano le rive saluta,
di Sionne le torri atterrate…
Oh mia Patria sì bella e perduta!
O membranza sì cara e fatal!
Arpa d'or dei fatidici vati,
perché muta dal salice pendi?
Le memorie nel petto raccendi,
ci favella del tempo che fu!
O simile di Solima ai fati,
traggi un suono di crudo lamento;
o t'ispiri il Signore un concento
che ne infonda al patire virtù!

English Translation of "Va, Pensiero"

Go, thoughts, on golden wings;
Go, settle upon the slopes and hills,
where warm and soft and fragrant are
the breezes of our sweet native land!
Greet the banks of the Jordan,
the towers of Zion ...
Oh my country so beautiful and lost!
Or so dear yet unhappy!
Or harp of the prophetic seers,
why do you hang silent from the willows?


Rekindle the memories within our hearts,
tell us about the time that have gone by
Or similar to the fate of Solomon,
give a sound of lament;
or let the Lord inspire a concert
That may give to endure our suffering.