Without dancers, ballet can’t exist. Without singers, opera can’t exist. The fact is, that without music, neither could exist. The music is what brings the words and movements together. We have covered so many operas in this blog, we would like to visit a few we feel you should familiarize yourself with whether you are new to attending or viewing operas or if you are a long time connoisseur of the art form.

Here are some of the operas of which we are huge fans.

 

1. Manon Lescaut

Starting our list today is a Puccini work created sometime between 1890 and 1893. Inspired by the Abbé Prévost novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut. It should be noted that another opera titled Manon by Jules Massenet in 1884 was also inspired by the Prévost novel.

Edmondo, surrounded by students, girls, and villagers, while his friend des Grieux is miserable and skeptical of amore. They tease him as he continues his negative outlook. Enter a carriage carrying an old general named Geronte de Ravoir, Lescaut, and his sister Manon, the title character who is beautiful. In fact, she is so lovely they are all taken aback by her splendor.

Unfortunately, all the men smitten with Manon find out she is on her way to a convent, by the demand of her father. Her brother attempts to help her and assist her in escaping to Paris. De Grieux is in love with her and when learning of their plans to escape, meets with Manon and they run away.

In the second act, Manon has returned to live with Geronte and her brother comes to visit them. She complains that he is mean and boring. So her lover Geronte hires entertainment to lift her spirits. Still, Lescaut does not like seeing his sister unhappy and sets out to find de Grieux, who is the person Manon pines for.

When Lescaut finds de Grieux he reunites the lovers and they decide to renew their love. Geronte allows them to leave but without her jewels or robes. Manon tries to take her belongings anyway and finds that Geronte has called the authorities to arrest her. The beginning of Act III begins with Manon in prison.

You can watch Manon Lescaut at  the Fistspielhaus Baden-Baden in Germany over here!

 

2. Iolanta

Premiering in 1892 in St. Petersburg, this Tchaikovsky opera surrounds title character who is a young blind princess unaware that she cannot see or royalty. She has been isolated from birth by her father and only attended to by servants. Still, Iolanta can sense that she is missing out on something and expresses her sadness.

King René, Iolanta’s father, insists that she is not ever to know she is blind nor shall or her soon to be husband, Duke Robert. A doctor, Ibn-Hakia, says that he has a treatment for Iolanta, and she could be cured of her blindness but it will only work if she knows that she is blind. The king decides that the risk of breaking her heart is too big and denies Iolanta the treatment.

The soon-to-be husband, Robert arrives and confesses to his friend Count Vaudémont that he has fallen in love with Countess Matilde and does not want to marry Iolanta. After Robert professes his love for Matilde, Vaudémont finds the garden where Iolanta has been kept. He ignores the sign forbidding intruders and finds the princess sleeping. Vaudémont falls in love with Iolanta on sight.

When she awakens Vaudémont asks her for a red rose to keep, she offers him a white one twice and finally realizes that she is blind. Vaudémont helps her by explaining color and light. The couple falls deeply in love. King René discovers them and is furious but Vaudémont tells the king he loves Iolanta and wants to marry her.

The doctor enters and tells the king that now Iolanta is aware of her condition she may be able to see again with his treatment. Iolanta is not sure she wants the treatment and the doctor says unless she has the will to see the treatment will not work. The king tells Iolanta that he will execute Vaudémont for ignoring his sign. Unless the doctor can fix her blindness.

 

3. Zazá

This opera by Ruggero Leoncavallo has a libretto also written by the composer, which was customary of this artist. It premiered on November 10, 1900, at the Teatro Lirico di Milano and starred Rosina Storchio as the title character. Storchio was a celebrated Italian lyric soprano who starred in the premiere productions of operas by Puccini, Mascagni, and Giordano, as well as Leoncavallo.

Edoardo Garbin performed as Milio, Mario Sammarco played Cascart, and Clorinda Pini-Corsi performed as Anaïde. Arturo Toscanini conducted the premiere and thus began a long run for this notable Leoncavallo opera around the globe.

Since its inception, this opera has been produced over fifty times in places like Palermo, Paris, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Cairo, San Francisco, and New York. It premiered at The Metropolitan Opera on January 16, 1920. This production was conducted by Roberto Moranzoni and directed by David Belasco. The starring role was played by Geraldine Farrar and other players included Giulio Crimi and Pasquale Amato.

Zazá is the story of a singer by the same name who is French. She is having an affair with Milio but decides to end their relationship. Zazá makes this decision when she finds out that Milio is married to another woman.

 

4. The Marriage of Figaro

Premiering on May 1, 1786, at the Burgtheater in Vienna, this opera is probably the most famous on our list. Mozart composed this piece in four acts and is listed as a top ten opera performed most frequently throughout the world.

Our story opens with Figaro assessing a space where he will eventually put his bridal bed. His bride-to-be, Susanna, puts on the bonnet that she will wear at their wedding and assesses how she looks in the mirror. While Figaro is happy with the bedroom Susanna is not.

Her resistance comes from her fear of “droit du seigneur”, which is an age-old rule that a feudal lord is allowed to have sexual relations with a servant girl on her wedding night before her husband. Figaro and Susanna’s room is quite close to the Count’s, who has made her very aware that he plans on effecting this right.

The “droit du seigneur” was eradicated by the Count when he was married but he now wants to reestablish the law so he can sleep with Susanna. OF course, her fiancé, Figaro, is angered by this and plans to outsmart the Count.

When Figaro and Susanna leave Dr. Bartolo enters with his aging housekeeper Marcellina who has employed the doctor as her lawyer because Figaro had promised to marry if she would forget about some money she had lent him. Marcellina intends to make Figaro fulfill this vow and Bartolo is more than happy to help her since he is still upset with Figaro for helping the Count and Rosina get together, which happens in the previous play The Barber of Seville.

This is when Bartolo exits and Susanna returns to find Marcellina. The two women exchange insults until Susanna wins by calling Marcellina old. Enter Cherubino, who is frustrated with women in general. The Count enters and Cherubino hides because the Count is furious with him for seducing the gardener’s daughter. Of course, this is when the Count, alone with Susanna, demands his rights to her wedding bed.

 

Manon Lescaut, an example of one of the great Opera Compositions.

Scene from Manon Lescaut, performed at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden.

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