Sometimes it’s just more fun to root for the villain of a show. As long as Operas have been written there has always been a strong antagonist that fuels the drama of the piece. In fact, there have been so many dastardly villains in opera it’s hard to choose a favorite. We tried our best to select just a few, here are our favorite villains to grace the operatic stage.
While the origins and role of Mephistopheles in myth and folklore vary, one thing that is consistent is he is one bad villain. In the opera version of Faust and other versions of the famous German folk tale, It’s not so much the actions of Mephistopheles which make him bad, it’s what he causes other people to do. This influence over others is what makes him one of the worst villains in opera history.
Even though Mephistopheles has all of the supernatural powers that a villain could ever want, his greatest weapon is the power of manipulation. Mephistopheles’ ability to see a person’s weak points and take advantage of them without any hesitation is the main reason he fills his demonic role so well. Faust’s despair early on in the opera and the promises Mephistopheles makes him are the perfect example of how good he is at taking manipulating the weaknesses of man. Even though Faust finally escapes Mephistopheles’s trap, he is still probably the last opera villain you would want to encounter.
2. The Queen of the Night
If you remember anything about The Queen of the Night, it will be her famous aria. If you remember what she is singing about in that piece, then you’ll see why she is one of the most villainous opera foes of all time. Just like Mephistopheles, The Queen of The Night is a master manipulator who does not hesitate to ruin and kill to get what she desires.
In The Magic Flute, The Queen of The Night sends the heroes on their quest by telling them to save her daughter, but it is soon revealed that her daughter’s well being is the last thing on her mind. With threats to disown her own daughter if she does not kill, and lines like, “Here in my heart, Hell’s bitterness” it’s easy to see that The Queen of the Night is one of the top villains in all of the opera. Watch out for any soprano who can perfect her aria as well, because they may have traded their soul to Mephistopheles for the talent necessary.
There’s a stereotype in opera that many operas are full of death and despair. One of the main people you have to thank for that is Scarpia. In Puccini’s’ Tosca, Scarpia’s dogged pursuit of Angelotti not only results in the death of Angelotti but every other main character in the opera.
Scarpai doesn’t have the same supernatural powers of some of the other villains on this list, but that doesn’t stop him from killing even after his death. If you know Tosca, then you know that Scarpia’s most evil trick is convincing Tosca that Cavaradossi will be saved only to have him actually killed in front of her. While most people today would think of Joffrey from Game of Thrones for pulling off such a terrible lie, Scarpia has been doing it since Tosca premiered in 1900.
If you want to know how bad Iago is, an accurate description of him would be a mixture of Mephistopheles and Scarpia. Iago is just as manipulative as Mephistopheles, but in a more impressive way; he has a penchant for causing death and despair without using any supernatural powers. For that reason, Verdi’s Iago is one of the most dangerous villains in all of opera.
At the beginning of Otello, Iago despises Otello because he promoted someone else instead of him. However, by the end of the first act, Iago has already manipulated characters to the point where the person who was promoted over him has lost his position. That isn’t enough for Iago, by the end of the opera, he’s responsible for the death of two innocent people, all without ever physically harming anyone.
Hagen may fly under the villain radar because it seems like his actions are solely dictated by his father, Alberich. Don’t be fooled, Hagen is a villain all the same and is ultimately responsible for the fiery end to Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
The main crime Hagen commits is destroying Brünnhilde and Siegfried’s relationship. His manipulation, violence, and greed ultimately lead to his own death, but just like any terrible villain would, Hagen doesn’t go down alone. By killing Siegfried, Hagen sends Brünnhilde towards her fiery ending which also results in the death of the gods of Valhalla. While Hagen may not be as notorious as some of the other villains on this list, his deeds have some of the most epic consequences in all of opera.