Around 1598 Daphne was performed for the first time during a festival in Florence. This would come to be known as the first opera ever performed, although there were many types of musical theater preceding this event. Since that time the number of operas composed, the musical journeys they take us on, and the array of tenors and sopranos that sing with all their heart and soul are countless. In civilized cities all across the globe grand theaters show operas that were written hundreds of years ago as well as musical theater performances less than a century old.
As with every other genre of art known to man, some works are considered the worst while others are lucky enough to fall under the category of the very best.
It is a very hard task to name the best opera of all time. For that reason, we compiled today a list of our favorite operas. So, here we go with the
Top 5 Operas Ever Composed
1. Tristan und Isolde – Richard Wagner
Isolde is an Irish princess who is being escorted by Tristan to Cornwall, England where she is set to marry King Mark. Isolde does not want to marry the King because she loves Tristan. Isolde’s maid makes a love potion and passes it off as poison to Isolde. She convinces Tristan to drink it and they fall madly in love.
Isolde and King Marke are married and he goes hunting. While he is gone Isolde has a rendezvous with Tristan. King Marke discovers them and he feels betrayed. His loyal friend Melot attacks Tristan and he is stabbed.
In France, Tristan is back home in his own castle. He mortally wounded and is being attended to by Kurwenal his servant. Kurwenal realizes he must get Isolde before it is too late but it is. When she arrives Tristan is dead. Isolde kills herself.
2. Der Ring des Nibelungen – Richard Wagner
This musical drama is the second opera on our list written by German composer Richard Wagner. It begins with a dwarf named Alberich who gains possession of a magic ring. He who wears it has all the power in the world. This ring is as desirable as Frodo’s gold companion. Thus begins Das Rheingold the first of four musical dramas that make up Der Ring des Nibelungen. At the end of this first story we have learned about the Gods of the opera.
The next installment is Die Walkure we are introduced to gods who are under pressure to choose the final destiny of mortals. Even though this second musical points out the delicate nature of the god/mortal relationship, it’s serious nature does not stop the gods from playing games with each other. Siegfried, the hero, dies at the end. This death serves as a segue to the third musical drama in this opera. Siegfried is sometimes considered the lightest in subject matter of all four dramas that make up Der Ring des Nibelungen. This story follows Siegfried until he becomes a man. He finds pieces of his father’s sword, repairs it, and ultimately kills a dragon. This feat earns him the ring that Alberich had possession of in the first musical drama. Siegfried gives Brunnhilde the ring because he is in love with her.
Gotterdammerung is the final dramatic story in this musical circle of tales. Each of the characters we have met are facing the cost of their choices in the past three musical stories. In this opera the curse of the ring proves to be true and Siegfried is murdered.
3. Aida – Giuseppe Verdi
Our title character in this nineteenth century musical story is an Ethiopian princess who is being held prisoner in Egypt, although it is unbeknownst to them who she truly is. Aida serves as a slave to Amneris, a princess and the daughter of the king of Egypt. Ramades is a General in the Egyptian army and he is in love with the slave Aida. When Ramades is appointed by the King to lead an attack on Ethiopia Aida is torn between her love for her homeland and her feelings for Ramades.
Amneris reveals that she also loves Ramades and when he returns after winning the war against Ethiopia the King grants Ramades his daughter Amneris, which will ultimately lead Ramades to the throne as the Kings successor.
Aida’s father Amonasro is one of the prisoners brought back to Egypt and Aida finds him among the others. He convinces his daughter to con military secrets out of her lover but Aida suggests to Radames that they run away together. He agrees and they run but not before they are captured by Amneris. Radames is arrested as a traitor while the General urges Aida and her father to escape.
Radames is sentenced to death, a verdict Amneris says she will overturn if Radames would love and marry her. He refuses and chooses death. Radames is buried alive in a cavern where he finds Aida waiting for him. They die together in each other’s arms.
4. Madame Butterfly – Giacomo Puccini
Set in Japan, this famous Italian opera Pinkerton, an American Naval Officer is planning to marry Cho-cho-san, which has been pre-arranged. His American consul, Sharpless, tells Pinkerton he is acting to fast but Pinkerton does not head his advice. Cho-cho-san is a young geisha who was taken from her family when her samurai father brought them shame by disembowelment. After marrying she converts to Christianity at the dismay of her own Buddhist family, who ultimately disown her. She is sad but happy to be with Pinkerton.
Cho-cho-san has been waiting three years for Pinkerton to return from America. She never stops believing that one day he will come back to her. But Sharpless brings her a letter from Pinkerton but doesn’t tell her what it says because she and her child are happy. Cho-cho-san convinces herself that Pinkerton is returning when she sees his ship pull into the port at Nagasaki. Still, she waits and Pinkerton does not come and she is restless. Once she and her child fall asleep, Pinkerton appears with his American wife, Kate. Pinkerton leaves regretfully and abandons Kate to meet with Cho-cho-san. Kate wants to take Pinkerton’s child but Cho-cho-san refuses. Finally, she kills herself with her father’s dagger before Pinkerton returns for the final curtain.
You can find many other operas by Puccini – such as the great Manon Lescaut – to watch in Cennarium!
5. Cosi fan tutte – Mozart
Loosely translated to “all women are like that”, Cosi fan tutte is the tale of two couples who are set to be married. Ferrando and Guglielmo are officers engaged to sisters Dorabella and Fiordillgi. Don Alfonso tells the two grooms that women are never faithful to their men. The two men beg to differ. The three place a bet to see who is correct. Ferrando and Guglielmo pretend to be shipped off to war and decide to come back to see if their brides to be are faithful.
Once they bid farewell the two men dress as Albanians and attempt to woo their women. Despina is the maid to the women and she can tell they are upset due to the absence of their men. She suggests that they find solace in the arms of other men but the women refuse, vowing to stay faithful. Don Alfonso bribes Despina to help him win and she begins her own seduction of attempting to woo the women into the arms of the “Albanians.”
Ferrando and Guglielmo make all kinds of attempts to seduce their women into being unfaithful and even go as far as to fake suicide. Still, the women keep their vows.
By the second act neither sister has succumbed to the Albanians advances but they are growing weaker as they loneliness grows. Their men are still away and Despina is relentless with her urging of them to cheat. Finally, Dorabella and Fiordilligi decide that a little flirting couldn’t hurt. It is just harmless fun.
Both couples go off alone and Dorabella gives a disguised Guglielmo a medallion that has Ferrando’s picture inside. She does so to get a heart-shaped locket Guglielmo was tempting her with. Ferrando is devastated when learning of Dorabella’s betrayal. Guglielmo boasts that his woman was faithful. Ferrando continues to try and woo Fiordillgi and ultimately he wins her over. Guglielmo gets a taste of his own medicine when Ferrando mocks him.
In the final scene of the musical deception the set is prepared for a two weddings. Dorabella and Fiordillgi agree to marry the Albanians while Despina disguises herself as a notary. They all sign a marriage contract and once that is done they find out that Ferrando and Guglielmo’s ship is returning. They slip away to return to the women as the officers pretend to be unaware and angry at what is going on. Then, they slip away again and return dressed in half their Albanian costumes and half as the officers and the sisters realized that they have been deceived by their loves and their maid. In the end though, everyone forgives everyone, and the two couples with the maid and Don Alfonso proclaims that in life there are good times and there are bad.
Don’t forget to check out Cennarium’s opera genre section to get the best masterpieces and other great operas from around the world!