Ah, opera – the soaring vocalises, the rich (and sometimes wonderfully gaudy) stage sets, the costumes, the drama. Opera as a tradition is among the younger traditions of voice, but appreciation for opera is re-emerging in the twentieth century as a new generation of performers take old operas into a fresh century. Opera as a musical form has influenced a great number of genres, from symphonic metal to darkwave, and far from being boring, is a tradition well worth exploring. Here are five operas you should listen to.
Depicting a fiery young woman who earns the love of a great many men – but gives very little of her own her would-be paramour, Don Jose – this famous opera by Georges Bizet is the very one that the famous “Habanera” aria is from. A classic tragedy, this opera in four acts depicts not only the struggles of love, but the struggles of the common man in a post-war scenario. The music of Carmen has been hailed as one of the greatest achievements of orchestration in opera, and boasts one of the most engaging scores of the French opera tradition.
Penned by the celebrated composer Verdi, La Traviata depicts a courtesan, Violetta, and her lover, Alfredo. La Traviata is another tragedy – it depicts the plight of many a working courtesan that contracted tuburculosis or another then-fatal disease, who eventually dies of it, to the sorrow of their lover (or lovers). La Traviata is among the most-performed operas of all time, and in a few instances has been performed in a contemporary twentieth-century setting, with according costuming. Considered a standard in vocal music, La Traviata is one of opera's most-mined scores for soprano and tenor repertoire.
Another great by Verdi, Il Trovatore tells the story of a nobleman in love with a noblewoman – who is rivaled by a court performer or troubadour. The story also features many Romani characters, who have revenged themselves on the nobles for the death of one of their own, burnt at the stake as a witch, by stealing a baby. Host to the famous “Anvil Song,” Il Trovatore is a thrilling opera to listen to, with energetic music and emotive arias throughout.
Composed by Handel, Guilio Cesare is based on the Roman Civil War that took place 49 – 45 BC, and the relationship between Julius Caesar and Egypt's great queen, Ptolemy Cleopatra VII. With soaring arias and an intense examination of the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra, the story told by this opera is as much one of love as one of state.
The Magic Flute
Easily the most famous of the twenty-two operas composed by Mozart, The Magic Flute depicts the Queen of the Night seeking to rescue her daughter, Pamina, from under the rule of the priest Sarastro. Pamina falls in love with her would-be rescuer, Tamino, and both undergo remarkable transitions throughout the opera. As much a story of the supernatural of love, the opera's most famous aria, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,” is one of the most widely sung among repertoire pieces for the coloratura soprano voice, and is often simply referred to as “The Queen of the Night aria.”
Each of these wonderful productions has something different to offer the listener – from gods and demons to ordinary everyday people, each tells a remarkable story – with equally remarkable music.