'O sole mio is one of the most renowned and respected songs in classical music. Written by Giovanni Capurro and Eduardo di Capua in 1898, 'O sole mio has become one of the greatest and most enduring love songs ever penned as well as an unofficial national anthem for Italy. It is, without doubt, a favourite of mine and each time I hear it, in its original Neapolitan tongue, I can’t help but be moved emotionally as the hairs raise on the back of my neck and I feel closer to an inexpressible spiritual self.
My earliest memories of 'O sole mio was in 1990 following the release of The Three Tenors - In Concert. To this day, I still class this performance as a defining moment in music history. Pavarotti, of course, is most often connected with this song and for good reason, he mastered the song’s intricacies better than anyone else ever had and arguably ever will. The comical oneupmanship that Carreras and Domingo tried to achieve over Pavarotti during the encore is priceless. It is a moment, forever captured between contemporaries, that removed the snobbishness from classical music and ensured the human element remained front and centre. I’m certain there are classical music lovers that will detest this breakdown of discipline within the field, yet it is this defining moment that ensured I would forever have a love of classical music and the tenor vocal.
Over the years there have been countless recordings of this timeless masterpiece. Some well known, others a little more obscure. There are instrumental versions and English language interpretations such as the adequate yet lacklustre Down From His Glory. I must admit, however, that I thoroughly enjoy the use of the melody on It’s Now Or Never. Both Dean Martin’s and Connie Francis’ interpretations are superb, but I find that part of my interest in classical music, especially that which is lyrically based, is that I don’t need to understand the language in order to emotionally connect with a song. Regular readers would note that I’ve never been attracted to the literal meaning and interpretation of lyrics. For some people, they need to understand the lyrics in order to connect with the song. For me, I find that the vocal is akin to an instrument. Truthfully, we shouldn’t judge how others or ourselves choose to appreciate music for it’s subjective and the only thing that really matters is how the music makes us feel.
While reviewing every possible recording of 'O sole mio would be arguably a lifetime’s work, I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the top 10 renditions ever recorded, from those that I have heard.
Purists will likely want to lynch me with this first recommendation. No, this certainly isn’t your classical interpretation, but this punk cover is brilliantly done and subjectively brings a smile to my face whenever I listen to it.
I must admit, this rendition is a bit of an odd choice as I didn’t really connect with the pop-styling when I originally heard this recording, but it has a tendency to grow on you and I’ve become rather smitten with it. If it were not for its classical and operatic origins, both this rendition and the one prior would have been perfect interpretations, proving, to me anyway, that sometimes we need to look beyond our preconceived notions of what art is and should be and therefore we should not always limit creativity to specific genres.
This is a gorgeous rendition with an interesting introduction. Lisa Ono has an exceptionally smooth and adorable vocal and I’m simply blown away with the instrumental aspects of the song. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
This is the first in my list to present the song in its original classical form and Il Volo performs 'O sole mio beautifully with a modern styling that, while similar to the original and most popular renditions, is unique and an absolute pleasure to listen to.
I love the classical guitar and Michael Marc has given us a rendition that I could listen to on repeat for eternity. He truly makes that guitar sing with so much emotion that lyrics are frankly not needed. Absolutely beautiful!
Mark Vincent’s interpretation is bold and confronting. You’ll stop what you’re doing just to listen to this one as Vincent’s control over his vocal is nothing short of amazing. The musicality, however, has a tendency to get in the way and I personally feel that the instrumental aspect could have been reduced by a decibel or two, thereby allowing Vincent’s vocal to remain prominent throughout. Nevertheless, it is a minor quibble in an otherwise exceptional interpretation.
Enrico Caruso is arguably the reason why we’re here. His was the first mainstream release, having been released in 1916, and remains as timeless as the song itself. The fact that we have a recording this good, after this long, really amazes me and I only wish that we could have heard Caruso’s vocal in a more recent era when the recording equipment could have adequately captured his entire range. He would have given Pavarotti a run for his money, no doubt!
Andrea Bocelli is one of my all-time favourite tenors and he did a fantastic job on this interpretation that is only seconded to Pavarotti’s remarkable solo recording of the song.
As far as modern recordings go, Luciano Pavarotti’s version of 'O sole mio is arguably incomparable. It is a defining moment for the song and one of the greatest recordings Pavarotti ever made. It’s absolutely flawless!
Okay, so perhaps this isn’t the greatest version of the song, as there are some foolhardy antics throughout this live performance, but if a song, and music in general, is to invoke an emotional response, then the Encore from the Three Tenors’ landmark 1989 Concert certainly fulfils that brief. Hence, it is deserving of its place at the top of my list for I can’t help but smile when I watch the concert or listen to the recording.
Well, dear reader, they’re my top 10 versions of 'O sole mio, what are yours?