Featured, Opera trivia

The Top 10 Operas of All Time, According to Regular People

From classic 16th-century works to new, modern productions revealed around the world, opera continues to build on its 400+ year repertoire. But which must-see operas do the majority of people say is the best? To help you decide which shows to cross off your opera bucket list, we’ve compiled the top 10 operas of all time, according to regular people.

Ranker—the leading media platform for crowd-sourced rankings on just about everything— has a pretty impressive list that shares just that. With over 47,000 votes and counting, check out the results from Ranker’s Best Operas of All Time below:

1. The Magic Flute

It’s no surprise to see The Magic Flute at the top of the list. Among one of the most performed operas in the nation, Mozart’s masterpiece is a fairy tale of an opera, featuring a love story, themes of good and evil, and a wicked, mysterious Queen of the Night. The vocal ranges required for singers in this production are challenging, even reaching a rare high F note. See the renowned and demanding aria sung by the Queen of the Night character in the clip above!

2. Rigoletto

Based on a French play, Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is a tragic story packed with emotion and drama. Set in 16th century Italy, Rigoletto follows the Duke of Mantua, his court jester Rigoletto, and Rigolett’s unlucky daughter. Love, murder and betrayal, Verdi hits it all in this iconic opera.

3. Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni is a young and arrogant aristocrat who will stop at nothing to challenge unrequited lust, even if it means violence. Another work of Mozart, Don Giovanni presents a thrilling story of lust, murder and revenge—it’s no wonder the production is such a popular one. Don Giovanni is also an opera that is often re-imagined through different lenses because of its unique adaptability. Whether it’s set at a college campus or inside the world of film noir, this timeless opera is a classic.

4. Carmen

Carmen, by French composer Georges Bizet, is easily one of the most popular operas in the world, boasting iconic arias (like Habanera in the clip above) and melodies that continue to lend themselves to everything from cartoons to commercials. Sung in French but set in Spain, Carmen follows a provocative gypsy and her love triangle, and features a shocking finale.

5. Le nozze di Figaro

Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (sometimes called The Marriage of Figaro) is the first truly comedic operas to make the list. This opera tells the story of a wedding gone wrong, complete with merry mix-ups, deception and missed connections all the way to the altar. Le nozze di Figaro is also where you can hear one of the most famous pieces of opera music—the overture—that continues to also make its way into popular culture, even today.

6. La traviata

Think Pretty Woman, but not funny. A heart-breaking masterpiece, La traviata can be found on many opera bucket lists because of its iconic music, likable characters, and its irresistible themes of true love. Another opera by Verdi, La traviata’s story is so beautiful and tragic, that it’s been adapted into many different forms, including Pretty Woman and Moulin Rouge. Plus, it just might boast the the best drinking song ever, as you can see for yourself in the clip above. Cross it off your list this season! 

7. Tosca

Another perfect opera tragedy, Tosca is the first Puccini opera we’ve encountered so far on our list. Sacrifice, death, power and love are all explored in this dark masterpiece of an opera. Recently referred to as the “original #MeToo opera,” Tosca tells the story of two people secretly in love, who are willing to risk it all at a chance of freedom together.

8. La bohème

La bohème is another Puccini opera about the lives of talented musicians, artists, poets and philosophers living in Paris. A group of friends emerge and begin to find family within one another, living as bohemians together. Loosely adapted into the popular musical and movie Rent, La boheme is a favorite among many.

9. Turandot

Puccini’s gorgeous Turandot takes place in China, and follows a story about a beautiful princess, Turandot, and the challenging—and risky—task she presents her suitors. Full of surprises, Turandot is an unconventional love story with a twist. Turandot also claims one of opera’s most powerful and iconic arias, Nessun Dorma, seen in the clip above.

10. The Barber of Seville

The only Rossini opera to make it in the top 10, The Barber of Seville is a comedic opera, based on a famous play by Beaumarchais. In a sort of Rapunzel situation, a young woman named Rosina is confined to her uncle’s home after the death of her parents leaves her with a fortune. Her uncle and guardian Bartolo forbids her to see any man—but this is an opera after all, and opera love knows no bounds.

We just included the top 10, but Ranker’s list goes on into the hundreds. What would be on your list? Let us know which opera you think should be number one in the comments!

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Modern operas, Opera history

Changing the Ending to Carmen

Re-imagining the most popular works and placing them in a new setting has produced some creative revivals of opera classics in recent years.

There are certain operas that lend themselves particularly well to this type of practice because their themes are so universal. Romeo et Juliet (star-crossed love), Rigoletto (revenge), and Don Giovanni (unrepentant lust), just to name a few.

But how far can we go with this?

It’s one thing to create a modern set and contemporary costumes—Rigoletto in Las Vegas or Don Giovanni in a film noir set. This adds flavor, and makes the pieces and their themes feel more relatable.

Photo by Cory Weaver for Lyric Opera of Kansas City

However, is it also acceptable to alter to the plot and the musical arrangement? Should the story, the score, and the essential emotions of the original artists be significantly altered? If so, then what do we call this edited work… is it a “version” of the original, or a whole new work of art?

Case in point, in 2017 the Florence (Italy) opera house produced a new “version” of Carmen, where the title character does not die, but rather murders her abuser. The new feminist movement in the wake of #MeToo replaces Old World female subjugation.

“As far as we know, it is the first time that the ending to Carmen has been changed,” the opera house’s Paolo Klun told The Telegraph.

“We think it’s important that the theatre should not be a conservative place of musical culture, it should not be a museum. It’s a place where debate can be initiated. Carmen was written 150 years ago in a very different cultural context. Times change.”

Times change, indeed. And in any case, it’s not uncommon for certain operas to have several different “versions” that have been created over the years to accommodate a given companies resources, time constraints, venue limitations, and other variables. But that’s not exactly the same thing as overhauling the entire storyline, including changes to the score…

Opera Australia’s ‘Carmen’ by C Branco Gaica

Leo Muscato, the opera’s director, said he was initially resistant to the idea of changing the ending. “The death of Carmen is the engine that drives the opera, why reverse the situation?”

“Then I understood that what Chiarot (superintendent, Opera di Firenze) was calling for was reasonable. The theme of death in the opera has a strong masculine element – the woman must sacrifice herself in order to save her freedom. It is a point of view that today makes no sense.”

Well, OK, but if that’s the case, perhaps we should review—and change—our entire body of historical works of literature, music, painting, sculpture, theater, etc. Perhaps our modern-day environmentalists would prefer that Captain Ahab merely photograph, instead of hunt, Moby Dick. (Not as compelling, is it?) Maybe even Florence’s own statue of David by Michelangelo should be covered up in the name of modesty. Where would we draw the line?

This is an interesting debate, and it’s not going away any time soon. There is a lot of pressure to be politically correct, even in the arts where there should be more freedom from this type of influence. But alas, here we are, one of the most beloved pieces in opera history fundamentally altered to conform to modern sensibilities. So now what? Perhaps Cio-Cio San will be the next beneficiary of this new trend; maybe she’ll even turn her sword on Pinkerton in an upcoming production of Madama Butterfly—many in the audience would love to see that, no doubt!

What are your thoughts on the debate? Please leave your comments below.

Here’s the original article in The Telegraph:


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