Looking for some feminine inspiration? Even though opera is full of male heroes saving the day, there are countless female characters who deserve just as much recognition as any character. Here are our favorite 5 strong female opera characters.
For centuries, politics and war were left completely to men. This doesn’t stop Cleopatra from entering the fray of a vicious war in Handel’s Giulio Cesare. Just as the queen of the Egypt was in real life, Cleopatra is a strong ally and a dangerous enemy thanks to her courage, cunning, and her determination to triumph.
In this opera, she finds a strong ally and future lover in Caesar while also dealing with the roadblocks on her quest to become the sole queen of Egypt. While many of the other characters in this opera are waging wars with their armies of thousands of men, Cleopatra goes directly to Caesar and aligns herself with Cornelia and Sextus in person. Not to say that she can’t lead an army, she demonstrates her military prowess by gathering the Roman army after Caesar’s supposed death. Without Cleopatra, this opera would end with Ptolemy in power instead of the era of peace that Caesar and Cleopatra begin together.
In so many depictions of America’s Wild West, female characters were a prize for bandits and heroes, but in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West Minnie is the ultimate hero. From successfully running a saloon full of drunken men to reforming the character Bandit, Minnie proves her strong will and sharp mind throughout this opera. She isn’t completely virtuous though; she’s not afraid to cheat when the situation calls for it.
Minnie is thriving in a man’s world despite the constant attempts by her patrons to marry her when this opera begins. When Ramirez enters the picture though, Minnie commits to him, and it seems like she’s making a fatal mistake since Ramirez is planning on stealing the miner’s gold and getting out of town. It seems like a sure bet that Minnie will end up on the losing side in this story, but when Ramirez says that he is going to give up his bandit life and change for her. Thanks to the power of her character, and her creating her own luck in a card game, Minnie gets what she wants and changes the man she loves for the better.
In most stories, the female character is saved by a male just in time. However, in Beethoven’s Fidelio the exact opposite happens thanks to one of the best female characters in all of opera, Leonore. With her devotion to her husband, her cunning use of disguises, and her courage to enter into the dark dungeons of a prison, Leonore is an outstanding heroine.
Simply put, this opera wouldn’t have a happy ending if it weren’t for Leonore and her indomitable will. Disguising herself as a man, agreeing to marry the daughter of the jailer, and even standing up to the cruel governor of the prison all to save her husband and, subsequently, the rest of the prisoners. You will find yourself cheering her name with the when the curtain falls on this opera.
This opera named after the strong female character at its center is full of deception and power grabs. Throughout Handel’s opera, Rondelinda never loses sight of what’s important to her and outsmarts those who would marry her as a stepping stone to the throne.
At one point in Rodelinda, it seems that the power hungry Grimoaldo has won, and Rodelinda will be forced to marry him. However, Rodelinda wisely puts her most valuable possession literally on the chopping block and tells Grimoaldo that if he wants to marry her, he will have to kill her son in front of her. Grimoaldo knows that if he does then Rodelinda will be both his queen and his enemy, so he has no choice but to back down. Rodelinda’s bravery and wise decisions make her a standout character in an opera that is full greed and backstabbing.
5. Lady Macbeth
Just because these female characters are strong doesn’t mean that they have to be good. When it comes to being bad, Lady Macbeth is one of the most powerful and most wicked characters in opera thanks to Verdi’s take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Lady Macbeth does end up paying for her actions but not before taking the audience for a wild ride.
Lady Macbeth is extremely intelligent, and she knows how to manipulate people. Unfortunately, she is also power hungry, and under her influence her husband almost destroys Scotland. In the right circumstances, Lady Macbeth’s drive and intelligence could have done great things, but she will go down as one of the great villains in both opera and theater.
PS: March was Women’s History Month! Take a look at how Cennarium honored
women’s accomplishments in the performing arts with 3 select streamed shows.