Even though there are many operas for fans to love and performers to perform there can only be a few that are considered the best, or most loved. We have dedicated today’s list to the top ten operas around the world.
10. Don Giovanni – Mozart
Performed in two acts with a libretto written by Lorenzo Da Ponte this opera is based on the tales of womanizer Don Juan who is very successful in seducing the ladies. It premiered at the Teatro di Praga on October 29, 1787 by the Prague Italian opera. This work falls under the genre of drama giocoso, which intertwines drama with comedy. This was a very popular style of opera at this time.
Not only does this opera fall into the top ten of all time, it is a constant source of inspiration for dozens of works that followed. The plot follows an aggressive Don Giovanni who believes that all women are his for the taking. His servant Leporello helps him while he attempts to seduce women everywhere he goes.
Of course, the husbands and fathers of the women he attempts to seduce, succeeding in most cases, set out to kill Don Giovanni but in the end, he gets defeated by a supernatural statue. This opera has all a viewer needs, love, violence, supernatural occurrences, and wonderful compositions to take on a musical journey.
9. Le nozze di Figaro – Mozart
The Marriage of Figaro, the English title, falls under the genre of opera buffa, which simply means comedic opera. It consists of four acts and was composed by the legendary composer in 1786. The libretto was also written by Lorenzo Da Ponte and the finished work premiered in Vienna on May 1, 1786 at the Burgtheater.
The plot is set to a play titled La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro written by Pierre Beaumarchais. It tells the tale of Figaro and Susanna, who eventually get married but not until they succeed in outsmarting Count Almaviva, who they both work for and who is insistent on seducing the bride.
This was the first time Mozart and Da Ponte worked together. This union would also bring us other operatic masterpieces like our previous list entry Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte. A special performance was given at the palace theater in Laxenburg in June of that same year by request from the Emperor.
8. Rigoletto – Verdi
Number eight on our list brings a new composer, to the article, but a legendary one in the world of opera. Giuseppe Verdi’s three act work with libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave was inspired by the Victor Hugo play Le roi s’amuse.
The original work has a plot that portrays king Francis I of France to be a womanizer and lacking of morals. This was a forbidden tactic during Europe’s restoration period immediately following the Napoleonic wars. Austrian censors ruled Northern Italy at the time so getting permission for the work proved to be problematic.
Obstacles or no obstacles though, Rigoletto opened on March 11, 1851 on a double bill with Giacomo Panizza’s ballet Faust. Opening night was sold out and Verdi and Piave gained great success. Of course, it sits in the repertoire of standards in operatic circles. It premiered at La Fenice in Venice, which a great monetary achievement for the theater.
7. Die Zauberflöte – Mozart
This is Amadeus’ third showing on our list of most performed operas worldwide. Meaning The Magic Flute in English, this opera, sitting at number seven, consists of two acts. The libretto was written in German by Emanuel Schikaneder, who penned it to be a Singspiel, a musical drama that is considered subcategory of opera. This type of work combines dialogue that is spoken as well as sung.
The plot circles around Pamina, who is the daughter of the Queen of the Night. Pamina is being held against her will by a high priest. The Queen convinces Prince Tamino to save her daughter. When Tamino becomes familiar with the priest’s moral teachings he chooses to join.
What sets this opera apart from the other two is that this work would be the last to appear of Mozart’s before his death. Premiering in Vienna at the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden on September 30, 1791 and was instantaneously popular. It reached its 100th performance less than a year later.
6. Il barbiere di Siviglia – Rossini
More commonly known as The Barber of Seville, this opera that sits at number six, falls under the category of opera buffa. Completed in two acts this opera has a libretto written by Cesare Sterbini. The writer based the plot around Le Barbier de Séville, a French comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, also the inspiration of Mozart’s work in slot number nine.
Premiering in Rome at the Teatro Argentina on February 20, 1816, The Barber of Seville falls under the comedic genre of opera buffa. It is held as one of the most brilliant works of comedy within music to have ever been written. In fact, it revolves around the only character to appear in two slots on this list; Figaro.
Unfortunately, the premiere flopped in front of an audience who made their dislike known vocally. But they are said to have hissed and booed because the crowd was filled with supporters for Giovanni Paisiello who had composed and premiered an opera by the same name and same subject more than thirty years earlier. The latter composer felt Rossini was committing a slight against him. The second performance of Rossini’s version was a roaring success. Paisiello’s version has thus faded into obscurity.
5. Madama Butterfly – Puccini
This is the first of many Giacomo Puccini appearances on our list today. Madama Butterfly is the correct spelling of the opera unlike the title of the work it was inspired by, short story “Madame Butterfly” by American author John Luther Long. Actually, it was inadvertently based on the short story after Puccini attended the London premiere of David Belasco’s play by the same name.
The premiere of this highly popular opera in two acts was held in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala on February 17, 1904. The reception was not good. This is said to have been due to Puccini taking too much time to complete the opera and not leaving enough time for rehearsals. This is especially surprising since the singers used were considered tars of their time.
The premiere version was in two acts but after being such a failure Puccini rewrote it and added another act. It had a second premiere in Brescia, a province in Northern Italy, and was a hit. Still, this isn’t the final version although it moved around the world. Puccini wrote a five versions and the last, written in 1907, is the one performed so much it put the title on our list.
The second on this list written by Giacomo Puccini has a libretto in Italian by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. It was premiered in Rome at the Teatro Costanzi on January 14, 1900. The plot was built on the play La Tosca written by Victorien Sardou in 1887.
It is set in Rome on year earlier when Napoleon is threatening to invade the Kingdom of Naples and contains some of Puccini’s most loved arias. He was inspired when seeing the play in 1889 but getting the rights to turn it into an opera took quite a long time.
Composition took four more years due to Puccini’s constant disagreements with the librettists and the publisher. Still, in spite of the past complication and the instability that was Rome at the time, Tosca was a success with audiences on that January evening at the turn of the twentieth century and remains a hit today.
3. La bohéme – Puccini
Number three for Puccini on our “best of” list La bohéme is the second opera we mention that has a dispute of origin surrounding it. This time it involves Ruggero Leoncavallo who is said to have offered his libretto to Puccini and it is here where accounts get fuzzy. Puccini said he had already been working on it with other librettists and Leoncavallo felt it was his story and Puccini should have stepped down.
Either way, it Puccini’s version that make is to the list of all-time favorites, where Leoncavallo’s version doesn’t make it to the top fifty. Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci does make the top fifty list at number twenty. This popular version premiered at the Teatro Regio in Turin on February 1, 1896.
Another interesting fact is that a missing act was discovered in 1957 and it is a mystery as to why Puccini didn’t use the act when it explained a confusion between two characters in the third act.
2. Carmen – Bizet
With a libretto written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy this opera, coming in at number two, is set around the Prosper Mérimée novella. Carmen broke through conventional boundaries and was considered scandalous in its day.
It premiered on March 3, 1875 in Paris at the Opéra-Comique and falls under the comic subgenre by the same name. The title character is a gypsy who seduces a soldier Don José only to be killed by him after she rejects him.
Although it is widely performed throughout the world its initial success was mixed. The French were not very impressed but it’s reproductions around the world is where Carmen attained its reputation. It is unfortunate that the composer would die after only thirty-three performances and never know the success it would reach in only ten years.
1. La traviata – Verdi
The most performed opera worldwide today has an English title of The Fallen Woman. It is based on La Dame aux Camélias, a novel by Alexandre Dumas. Verdi composed music to a libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave. It premiered in Venice at La Fenice on March 6, 1853.
When visiting Paris with his second wife the couple attended a play set to the Dumas novel and Verdi was inspired. He did not have his obstacles with disagreements with the theatre and at its premiered, while the first act was a success, the audience booed for the second. This was due to the singer chosen to play the lead character, who was supposed to be emaciated and ill, but was hefty and plump in size.
Watch La traviata today, performed in Austria!