We love art, we love music, and yes, we LOVE opera. There are so many operas written and performed around the world, just like movies, ballets, and musicals. And, just as with any other genre, there are favorites. This blog post is dedicated to our favorite operas. To these great operas. We love them because they are exceptional and we hope that if you don’t love them yet, you will.
We can’t get enough of this Mozart masterpiece, one that he was never able to see soar. The prodigy died shortly after it opened and was cheated of the accolades that would have come along with it. To date it is one of the top five most performed operas worldwide.
Premiering at the Freihaustheater auf der Wieden in Vienna in September of 1791, a very ill Mozart conducted despite visibly frail. He would die only two months later. This is considered a “sing-play”, or Singspiel, which means that there are some parts spoken and others sung. Mozart wrote the parts with specific vocalists in mind and a certain solo by the Queen is one of the most difficult parts to sing, which is why when done well, it is also one of the most beautiful.
Tamino, a prince, finds himself lost. He is being hunted by a snake and faints while begging the gods to save him. The ladies come upon him and defeat the snake. Yet Tamino has fainted and they all see him and find him attractive because he is young. They try to outsmart the others to be alone with the prince but all fail.
When Tamino awakens, the women are gone but he meets Papageno, who befriends the Prince, who believes this is the man who killed the snake. Along the way Tamino falls in love with Pamina, the daughter of the evil Queen, and meets a group of religious men whom he decides to join.
This tale, written by Giuseppe Verdi, is the story of an Ethiopian princess who is captured by Egyptians, who are not aware of her heritage. She falls in love with an Egyptian soldier, Radamès, who serves as the Captain of the Guard. Radamès is promised to Amneris, the daughter of the Egyptian King. Yet, when Amneris learns of the love between her soon to be betrothed and this slave girl she plans revenge.
The work was a commission by the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo and it opened on Christmas Even in 1871. The conductor of the first performance was not Verdi, who removed himself. That honor went to Giovanni Bottesini and to this day Aida is another frequently performed opera around the world.
When Isma’il Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt hired Verdi to create this opera to celebrate the opening of the Khedivial Opera House, the composer was paid 150,000 francs. The original premiere was delayed due to eh Franco-Prussian War and a little battle called the Siege of Paris, which lasted an entire winter. The reason why a battle delayed a premiere in Cairo was because all the sets and costumes were stuck in Paris, due to the war.
So, they performed Rigoletto at the opening of the theater instead and after the Siege of Paris was over, the costumes and sets were free to go and Aida premiered at the Khedivial. Since then this opera has delighted audiences for more than a century.
Some notable recreations include 1873 in Argentina at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires and in New York City that same year at the Academy of Music. More recently Aida was produced at La Scala for a 2006/2007 run.
3. Madama Butterfly
Composed by Giacomo Puccini this opera has a libretto written by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. They used a short story by the same title written by John Luther Long, published in 1898, as inspiration for the storyline. Performed in three-acts that was premiered in two at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on February 17, 1904.
Rosina Storchio, Giovanni Zenatello, and Giuseppe De Luca all sang in the premiere production yet due to rushed practices the audience wasn’t very welcoming. This is the reason why it is now three acts, due to revisions made by Puccini after the premiere. This is also on the list of most performed operas worldwide, making the top ten. It is this story in which Miss Saigon is based upon.
There is a young geisha in Japan who falls in love with an American officer in the navy. She thinks they are married and does not understand the arrangements. Her name is Cio-Cio-San and she waits patiently for Pinkerton, her love, to come back to her. She gives up the opportunity to marry prominent men. Did we mention she also has Pinkerton’s son?
Some interesting facts about this opera are that in 1996 Weezer, a popular rock group, not only named their album released that year Pinkerton, the contents are songs inspired by the opera. In the song “El Scorcho” you can hear the singer reference the lead character Cio-Cio-San. It is also heavily referenced in the hit film Fatal Attraction, released in 1987. Not only were mentions of Madama Butterfly made in the movie, part of the score was used as music for the film.
A silent film starring Mary Pickford was released in 1915 and yet another silent film was released four years later. Still, these two were not the only silent film versions of a story written for singers, a color adaptation of Madama Butterfly was released in 1922.
4. The Mikado
Written by the super duo Gilbert and Sullivan, this favorite opera of ours opened at the Savoy Theatre in London on March 14, 1885. It ran for nearly 700 performances and was, for some time, the second longest running opera in history. That same year it premiered, it is said The Mikado, was being staged by more than one hundred opera companies around the world.
The Mikado is performed more often than most Savoy Operas, which are operas of comedic nature written in Victorian England, around the late 19th century. It also has the longest run from its first premiere than any other Savoy Opera. In 1891, the Royal Command Performance was a staging of this opera at Balmoral Castle for Queen Victoria and the Royals.
This opera was first performed in New York in 1885 and the company, out of Brighton, England, continued to keep this comedic opera in their rotation until they dispersed as a company in 1982. This opera has been references on Frasier, The Simpsons, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, and most memorably for us, in the final scene of Foul Play. The latter is a 1970s-movie starring Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase. The opera is being performed for the visiting Pope in San Francisco and the duo is desperately trying to chase down the bad guys before they assassinate the holy man at a production of The Mikado.
It has also been reference in an episode of the 1960s-television show Batman and the poster designed for The Little Shop of Horrors was inspired by the song “The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring, Tra la!”