The anti-hero is one of the most popular archetypes in film and television today. As with most tropes, opera was doing the anti-hero for hundreds of years before the camera was even invented. Whether it’s because they have good intentions and bad means, or they have charm and cunning but are bereft of morals, it’s always more fun to root for the bad guy. Here are a few of the best anti-heroes in opera.
1. Don Giovanni
What if you were able to do whatever you wanted and not worry about the consequences? This doesn’t mean there were no consequences to your actions, you just simply didn’t care and ran away anytime they caught up with you. If that sounds like your kind of life, then Don Giovanni, one of the greatest anti-heroes in opera, is your hero.
While Don Giovanni has few qualities you would call heroic, he is so charming you might find yourself falling for the same tricks that so many women fall for in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Few people would be able to accomplish what Don Giovanni so prolifically does. Even someone who detests everything Don Giovanni stands for will get a kick out of watching his story play out because when the consequences of his actions finally catch up with him, Don Giovanni’s life goes up in flames.
2. Count di Luna
While Count di Luna could easily be considered the villain of Il Trovatore, not everything he does in this Verdi classic is as bad as it seems. His first goal is to win Leonora, which until Manrico gets involved requires no foul play. His second goal is to find out what happened to his brother by finding the daughter of the woman who cursed him. Compared Don Giovanni, Count di Luna is a saint so far.
Like all anti-heroes though, Count di Luna’s actions become more dastardly as the story goes on. Whether it is because the woman he loves falls for his political rival or he finds the woman who can lead him to his brother, the Count’s actions become more drastic as he gets closer to his goals. Unfortunately for him though, his decision to double down his efforts only leads to him losing everything he wanted.
3. Gianni Schicchi
Gianni Schicchi is another anti-hero who despite being greedy, manages to also show admirable cunning and charm at the same time in Gianni Schicchi. Plus, of all the characters from Puccini’s comic opera, he is far from the worst. He more or less fits in and happens to come out on top at the end of the opera.
If Gianni Schicchi’s primary sin is rewriting Donati’s will to benefit himself, then just about every character in this opera commits the same crime. At least Gianni Schicchi leaves them the money and gets what he sought after while also being a funny and intelligent character. Could you say for sure that the other characters would do the same? Plus, just like Don Giovanni Gianni, Schicchi is damned to hell for what he does even though according to him, he was just doing it for true love.
Just like all the anti-heroes on this list, Rigoletto starts out with a somewhat noble goal. He only wants to protect his daughter, Gilda. However, Rigoletto’s past misdeeds and his means of protecting her are what cause him come short of his goals just the way most anti-heroes do.
By supporting the Duke’s conquests, Rigoletto earns the curse that Monterone places on him. For a hero, the moment that Rigoletto is put in the same position as those who he ridicules would be the beginning of a journey towards being a better person, but Rigoletto is no hero. His paranoia gets the better of him and his attempt to murder the Duke to protect his daughter results in the death of his daughter and no harm to the Duke.
Despite her jealousy ultimatley driving her to violence, Tosca ultimately has good intentions at heart. She loves Cavaradossi and wants to protect him, even if she is easily manipulative by Scarpia into believing that Cavaradossi has another lover. Unlike the other anti-heroes on this list, Tosca’s flaw isn’t out of greed or lust; she is merely impulsive.
Not only does Tosca pay dearly for her flaw, but every other character in Tosca is punished as well. Whether by her hand or due to her actions, this opera is full of the deaths of moral and immoral characters alike. Unlike Gianni Schicchi who uses love as a convenient cover for his true intentions, Tosca was truly acting out of love. Unfortunately for her, Puccini wasn’t feeling humorous when he wrote her ending.