Another country which has more than one official language is San Marino. It has produced Eurovision songs in Italian, English, and a mix of both. And it may have more variety in languages than it has in performers. San Marino has sent bilingual singer Valentina Monetta to the contest four times!
Monetta has sung in English three times and in Italian once. It wasn’t hard for me to choose which of her entries to feature today. Her Italian song was Crisalide (Vola) — literally: Chrysalis (Fly).
Like many modern Eurovision songs, Crisalide (Vola) comes with a music video. Here the romantic title meets some dramatic imagery. (I love the sphere of light!)
In the past, the video made me feel that I could appreciate Crisalide without knowing any Italian. And since music and art are universal, I’m sure that was true on one level. But now that I care about languages, I want to deepen my appreciation of this song by considering its lyrics as well.
I didn’t look up the text immediately, however. First, I played Crisalide over and over, to see how much Italian I could still understand. Some individual words jumped out at me: Verità . . . immensità . . . fragile . . . eternità . . . farfalla. I also understood some short phrases: Dentro me . . . una forza libera . . . vola senza me. I made some mistakes, too: For instance, I thought I heard “volta” (turn), but the word was really “vuota” (empty). In general, though, my Italian wasn’t enough. I understood separate words and phrases, but not also how they fit together.
Even reading the lyrics didn’t help very much. Although I understood separate words and phrases, I didn’t also see how they fit together. For example, here is the central crisalide metaphor:
La farfalla nuova lascia sempre giù
La crisalide che eri tu
Vuota senza me
There are three “players”: La farfalla nuova (the new butterfly), tu (you) and me (me). Even the English translation on Diggiloo Thrush is confusing: “The new butterfly always leaves behind/ The chrysalis that once was you/ Empty without me” (Link). At least, for an English speaker, it’s easier to figure out. “Me” is the new self, symbolized by the butterfly; “you” is the old self, symbolized by the chrysalis. Crisalide is a song about rebirth.
Such a powerful theme should be central to the live performance. There should be both butterfly imagery and a sense of rebirth in the following clip, from the Eurovision 2013 Semi-final 2.
What do you think? I liked seeing the sphere of light again. And although the wardrobe change in the middle was too literal for me, I appreciated it as a visual cue. The red dress, however, does nothing for Monetta. I wish she had been in white . . . or at least in something that didn’t look like a circus tent. Instead of complementing the song, the staging only distracts from it.
I do think that was a big reason why Crisalide, which many fans thought would do well, failed to qualify for the Eurovision final. But I have to admit that Monetta herself stumbles. After the key change, her singing comes close to screaming . . . and the last note is flat.
And yet the power of the song comes through — like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis! The irony is that the live performance was supposed to be the butterfly.
Lost (and Found) in Translation
I was very happy to learn that Crisalide (Vola) has an English version: Chrysalis (You’ll Be Flying). This is rare these days in Eurovision!
What I like about it is that it keeps much of the original imagery and tone. For example, the “sogno fragile di Dio” (God’s fragile dream) of the second verse is also here, as “just a dream that God has had.” Other images had to change a little, like the “ponte sull’immensita” (bridge over the immensity) becoming the “bridges of eternity.” Most importantly, both the Italian and the English verses have the same sense of Sturm und Drang.
On the other hand, the first English refrain is much less romantic. The original lyrics relate flight to “la forza” (the force) and “un’altra liberta” (another freedom). But in the translation, we only hear about “confidence” and a “future [that] will make sense.” It’s disappointingly ordinary. At least the later refrains make up for it a little.
But nothing can make up for the difference between Italian and English. Italian is one of the most beautiful languages in the world, and it lends a lot of its beauty to Crisalide (Vola). If San Marino had sent Chrysalis (You’ll Be Flying) to Eurovision 2013 instead, with the same music video and staging, it wouldn’t be the fan favorite it still is today. I know I wouldn’t love it so much.