"Lascia ch'io pianga" Lyrics and Text Translation

Almirena's Aria from Handel's Opera, Rinaldo

Singer Emma Matthews (Almirena) performs during a dress rehearsal of Handel's 'Rinaldo' at the Opera House on July 19, 2005 in Sydney, Australia.
Singer Emma Matthews (Almirena) performs during a dress rehearsal of Handel's 'Rinaldo' at the Opera House on July 19, 2005 in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Patrick Riviere/Getty Images

Georg Frideric Handel's opera, Rinaldo, was the first Italian opera written for the English stage. Despite less-than-stellar judgments from the English music critics, the audiences loved it.

Context & Plot Setting

The story takes place in Jerusalem at the end of the 11th century, at the time of the first Crusades. At the end of the first act, the knight Rinaldo sits with his lover, Almirena in the garden. All of a sudden the evil sorceress appears and abducts Almirena. At the start of the second act, Almirena sits in her captor's palace garden mourning her predicament. Having been taken away from the love of her life with no hope of ever escaping, Almirena can only pray for mercy. Listen to this sublime performance of "Lascia ch'io pianga" by Renee Fleming on YouTube. To learn more about the story of Rinaldo, read the Rinaldo Synopsis.

Italian Lyrics

Lascia ch'io pianga
Mia cruda sorte,
E che sospiri
La libertà.

Il duolo infranga
Queste ritorte,
De' miei martiri
Sol per pietà.

English Translation

Let me weep
My cruel fate,
And that I
should have freedom.

The duel infringes
within these twisted places,
in my sufferings
I pray for mercy.

The History of Handel's Rinaldo

As I mentioned at the start, Handel's opera, Rinaldo, was the first Italian opera written specifically for an English stage, but what few people know is that Handel spent a great deal of time honing his compositional skills in the years prior to its premiere. Starting in 1703, Handel began composing operas in German while living in Hamburg. Though German operas weren't well defined musically or stylistically, Handel enjoyed a moderate level of success with his first opera, Almira, and continued to write a handful of other operas (which are now lost to time) until he departed for Italy in 1709. Handel spent great lengths of time there, traveling from one city to the next, attending theaters and operatic performances, and meeting with singers and musicians, all the while piecing together what Italian opera meant - its structure, melody, harmonies, rhythms, the intricacies of conversation between vocal and instrumental lines, and more. The culmination of what he learned was poured into his first Italian opera, Rodrigo, composed and premiered in 1707. Read the synopsis of Handel's Rodrigo. Italian audiences and critics did not care for it; Germanic influences riddled the score.  ​

Without admitting defeat, Handel returned to the drawing table and traveled to Rome where operatic performances were forbidden by the Pope. Instead, Handel wrote oratorios and cantatas to hone his skill. He met with part-time librettist Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani (who served as a diplomat), and the two were soon in partnership to create Handel's second Italian opera, AgrippinaRead the synopsis of Handel's Agrippina. After its Venice premiere in December 1709, Handel became an overnight star to Italian audiences and demand for him skyrocketed.

When word of Handel's fame reached Prince Georg Ludwig, the future King George I of Great Britain, offered Handel a position in his Hanover court. Handel accepted and moved back to England. His stay in Hanover was relatively short and left several months later with London in mind. Once in London, he found that his Italian fame was hardly known, but welcomed the fact that while away, audiences were beginning to appreciate Italian opera. Though the reasons and means remain a mystery to musicologists, Handel was commissioned to write an Italian opera for the Queen's Theater in Haymarket, managed by Aaron Hill. Hill had a vision to bring London's first Italian opera to fruition and had hired an all-Italian production company for that year's operatic season. He also chose the subject of the opera - the 16th-century poem Gerusalemme liberata by Torquato Tasso - and hired Giacomo Rossi, an Italian poet and teacher, to write the opera's libretto. Hill wanted to create the event of the year and was determined to use the latest theater technologies for set design and mechanics despite the costs.  

The premiere of Rinaldo on February 24, 1711, was an absolute success. Though within weeks of the opera's premiere, Hill lost his license after unpaid craftsmen took their complaints to the Lord Chamberlain's Office. Despite the replacement of theater managers, Handel's opera was in great demand and the performances were continued for the next 5 to 6 years with a total of 47 performances given.

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