Born over 400 years ago in Italy, opera is truly a time-defying art form that is still adored by millions of people worldwide. Today, almost every major city has a theatre where families gather and enjoy live performances of opera. Here are some of the most popular and beloved opera songs of all time.
An Introduction to Opera and Its Most Popular Pieces of Music
Opera is collaborative art with musicians and actors who carry out a complex piece of dramatic work. Opera is a precursor to art forms like Broadway Musicals and Disney movies. Each opera has many songs. But like anything, certain songs from certain “go viral” and become crowd favourites. If there were an Academy Awards show for operas…these songs would be the ones played between award presentations.
Here are some of the most well-known (and well-loved) songs from operatic works.
Probably the most popular opera song of all time, Nessun Dorma is a composition that is still regularly listened to today. It is the best-known aria off all time that originates from the final act of Giacomo Puccini’s opera named Turandot. It has been performed by many world-renowned tenors throughout the years, such as Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Paul Potts, and many others. To put things into context, in the opera, Nessun Dorma sings when a complex series of events take place, in which princess Turandot has to guess Calaf’s name until the sunrise, to avoid marrying him. Through the song, they communicate with each other with princess Turandot initially telling him that she will find out his name, no matter the cost. Calaf responds telling her that he will eventually win and marry her. The signature Vincero line from the song means I will win in the English language, with Calaf ensuring the princess that he will have her hand by the end of the night.
Queen of the Night
Die Zauberflöte, or The Magic Flute is Mozart’s majestic opera which encompasses one of the most beloved opera songs of all time, named Queen of the Night. First and foremost, this fast-paced aria is very recognizable due to the ah-ah-ah-aah passages performed by the Night Queen herself. The song signifies and embodies rage, vengeance, and despair the Queen feels once her position is threatened by the young sorcerer named Sarastro. Consequently, after finding out that her daughter wants to join the sorcerer’s ranks, the queen orders her daughter to kill him, otherwise she will be cursed and disowned. This aria is very difficult to pull off, and very few sopranos can even attempt to perform this on stage, the most popular soprano performing this regularly being the German singer named Diana Damrau.
O Mio Babbino Caro
Moving on, we’ll discuss another world-famous aria named O Mio Babbino Caro (Oh my dear Papa), taken from the opera Gianni Schicchi, written by Giacomo Puccini. While the opera itself isn’t as significant as some of Puccini’s other works of art, O Mio Babbino Caro is one of the most performed arias over the past 100 years. Contextually, the aria is sung when Lauretta, a young lady situated in Florence, Italy, falls in love with a man named Rinuccio and desperately wants to marry him. The song depicts pure frustration that Lauretta feels when she cannot be with the man she loves, and while the lyrics are quite simple and straightforward, the message they send is one of pure love and affection. Additionally, Florence at that time was full of people trying to backstab each other, and this song acts as a message of peace.
La Donna e Mobile
The first canzone on this list is La Donna e Mobile (Woman is Fickle) is the song performed on the third act of Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece named Rigoletto. This canzone is a great test for every tenor, as it is extremely difficult to sing some of the high-pitched notes in the composition. The song itself is sung by the character named Duke, who has the opinion that women are a joke and that men should stay away from them, as they are unreliable and fickle. Interestingly, after Rigoletto’s premiere in 1851, the song proved to be very catchy and many Venetian citizens were singing it at the time.
Taken from Georges Bizet’s 1875 Carmen, one of the most popular operas of all time, is the next song we’ll discuss named Habanera. It is the popularized name of the aria originally named L’amour est un Oiseau Rebelle (Love is a rebellious bird) that talks about love and how it cannot ever be predicted or tamed. The song sings in the first act when Carmen and her co-workers meet in the town square and are asked by soldiers whether they will ever love them. Carmen responds with an aria that describes love as an unruly bird, whose movements cannot be predicted. Additionally, she tells that love is like a gypsy’s child, unpredictable and lawless, and that the soldiers won’t get the answer they were seeking.
Un Bel Di Vedremo
Un Bel Di Vedremo (One fine day we’ll see) is an aria from Giacomo Puccini’s opera named Madama Butterfly. This beautiful aria is one of the most respected and famous arias that a soprano can sing, and is enjoyed by many to this day. It tells the tale of a lady named Cio-Cio-San who awaits the return of her long-lost husband. She pours her feelings into a heartwarming aria, in which she imagines their reunion as she sees the boat that her husband is boarded on in the distance approaching. This aria is beloved by many people because the story has a tragic ending, with Cio-Cio-San eventually committing suicide because of unendurable emotional suffering.
Libiamo ne’lieti calici
Rounding up our list of well-known opera songs is Libiamo ne’lieti calici (Let’s drink from the joyful cups), taken from Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. Unlike the romantic songs previously mentioned, this composition simply encourages the listeners to drink and enjoy life, mostly referring to alcoholic beverages. This aria is a duet between Violetta and Alfredo Germont, who are the main roles of the opera. They perform this song in the first act when they meet at a party and start having feelings for each other. Initially, Alfredo is encouraged by his friend to start singing the song to make a good impression on Violetta, and she soon follows his lead and starts singing along.