'La Donna E Mobile' Translation: From Rigoletto

The Metropolitan Opera performing Verdi's 'Rigoletto'

Hiroyuki Ito/Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The aria for lyric tenors known as "La donna e mobile" is the centerpiece of the opera "Rigoletto," Giuseppe Verdi's twisted tale of lust, desire, love, and deceit. Composed between 1850 and 1851, Rigoletto was adored by audiences when it first premiered at La Fenice in Venice on March 11, 1851, and even now, over 150 years later, it is one of the world's most performed operas. According to Operabase, which gathers statistical information from opera houses around the world, Verdi's "Rigoletto" was the 8th-most performed opera in the world during the 2014/15 season.

The Context of "La Donna e Mobile"

The Duke of Mantua sings this unforgettable aria in the third act of Verdi's Rigoletto as he flirts with Maddalena, the sister of the assassin Sparafucile. Rigoletto, the Duke's right-hand man, and his daughter, Gilda, who has fallen in love with the Duke, pay a visit to Sparafucile. Rigoletto is very protective of his daughter and wants to have the Duke killed since he is a man that cannot be trusted with women.

When they reach the inn in which Sparafucile is staying, they hear the Duke's voice bellowing within singing "La donna e mobile" ("Woman is fickle") as he puts on a show for Maddalena with hopes of seducing her. Rigoletto tells Gilda to disguise herself as a man and escape to a nearby town. She follows his instructions and sets out into the night while Rigoletto enters the inn after the Duke leaves.

When Rigoletto makes a deal with Sparafucile and hands over his payment, a calamitous storm rolls in for the night. Rigoletto decides to pay for a room at the inn, and Gilda is forced to return to her father after the road to the nearby town becomes too dangerous to traverse. Gilda, still disguised as a man, arrives just in time to hear Maddalena make a deal with her brother to spare the Duke's life and instead kill the next man that walks into the inn. They will bag the body together and give it to the duped Rigoletto. Despite his nature, Gilda still loves the Duke deeply and resolves herself to put an end to this dilemma.

Italian Lyrics of "La donna e mobile"

La donna è mobile
Qual piuma al vento,
Muta d'accento — e di pensier.
Sempre un amabile,
Leggiadro viso,
In pianto o in riso, — è menzognero.
È sempre misero
Chi a lei s'affida,
Chi le confida — mal cauto il cuore!
Pur mai non sentesi
Felice appieno
Chi su quel seno — non liba amore!
La donna è mobile
Qual piuma al vento,
Muta d'accento — e di pensier,
E di pensier,
E di pensier!

English Translation

Woman is fickle
Like a feather in the wind,
She changes her voice — and her mind.
Always sweet,
Pretty face,
In tears or in laughter, — she is always lying.
Always miserable
Is he who trusts her,
He who confides in her — his unwary heart!
Yet one never feels
Fully happy
Who on that bosom — does not drink love!
Woman is fickle
Like a feather in the wind,
She changes her voice — and her mind,
And her mind,
And her mind!