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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Don Giovanni in Modern Times
Featured, New productions

Don Giovanni in Modern Times

Keeping opera performance relevant to the “next generation” is a challenge faced by every company around the world. Productions rely increasingly on technological enhancements, staging is ever-more elaborate, and classic works are constantly being transported to different eras.

But as the saying goes, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” The phrase itself dates back to biblical times, reminding us that no matter how much things change, the essential human experience remains the same. Love, hate, jealousy, revenge, redemption. These themes are as old as civilization, and are the reason why old stories, poems, paintings, and musical performances still resonate with modern audiences. It’s also why remakes are Hollywood’s favorite summer blockbuster offerings.

In the opera world, the story of Don Juan, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, has certainly seen its share of “remakes” in recent years. Here is a brief list of some of the creative productions that have sought to bring this classic tale into modern significance.

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Featured, New productions

Mozart’s Librettist

Not often mentioned with the same reverence as the composer, the work of a librettist is no less important to a genre which, from its inception, sought to combine the magical forces of music and drama to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

While Mozart is the very definition of a household name (even among folks who can’t even name one of his works), his most successful collaborator is all-but-unknown to those who are not ardent opera fans. The Venetian writer, Lorenzo Da Ponte, wrote the libretti for three of Mozart’s most celebrated operas; The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi Fan Tutte. And yet you may have never heard of him.

The Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte

By Michele Pekenino (engraver, 19th century) after Nathaniel Rogers (American, 1788-1844)

Born in the Jewish ghetto of Venice, Lorenzo converted to Christianity as a youth when his widower father married a Catholic woman. Emboldened by an opportunity not yet given to Jews, he entered the priesthood to have access to higher education.

But while a priest in name, he often “overlooked” the vows of his order to compete with his good friend Giacomo Casanova (yes, THAT Casanova) for being the most scandalous scoundrel in all of Venice. He allegedly lived in a brothel and organized “entertainment” there for himself and other gentlemen of Venetian society on a regular basis.

Eventually he was arrested, convicted, and banished from the city for “public concubinage” and “abduction of a respectable woman.” The “respectable woman” in question was probably the mistress with whom he, the ordained priest, had two children.

So perhaps he knew what he was talking about from first-hand experience when he wrote the (in)famous “Catalog Song” from Don Giovanni, in which the title character’s servant lists the number of women his master has seduced:

In Italy six hundred and forty; in Germany, two hundred and thirty-one. A hundred in France, in Turkey ninety-one, but in Spain already a thousand three!

Exile from Venice brought him to Vienna and to the court of Emperor Joseph II, who had just created an Italian opera company. There Da Ponte coaxed his way into the role of “theater poet” without ever having written an opera in his entire life.

But it was in Vienna that Da Ponte first encounters Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. They were both living near the Stephansplatz at the time, neighbors in one of Vienna’s most trendy quarters. While collaborating on Le nozze di Figaro during a six week period in 1786, they scampered back and forth between Da Ponte’s humble abode and Mozart’s’ opulent apartments.

According to The Librettist of Venice, by Rodney Bolt:

“We do not know the full extent of that back-and-forth across the Stephansplatz, of how much composer and librettist argued, of whose ideas shaped what, but it is clear that as Da Ponte delivered page after page of prose drama transfigured into poetry that sang in itself, and a form that would be effective as opera, Mozart was able to take the pragma­tically simplified plot and re-endow the characters with subtlety, providing an audible commentary, one moment sarcastic, the next touching, then deliciously witty.”

“And so the simple conversation between Susanna and the Countess, as they compose a letter to entrap the Count, became a duet of extraordinary sweetness and intimacy; Susanna’s aria ‘Deh vieni‘, when pretending to be waiting for a tryst with the Count, intertwined her aim to teach Figaro a lesson for doubting her with a heartfelt expression of desire — a genuine hymn to love in a stock scene of buffo deception. The music-infused the characters that the words had conjured up with the contradictions, doubts, ironies, and warmth of richer humanity.”

Da Ponte’s American Career

In the United States, Da Ponte settled in New York City and became the first professor of Italian literature at Columbia College. While living in New York he produced the first full performance of Don Giovanni in the United States.

In 1828, at the age of 79, Lorenzo Da Ponte became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Five years later he founded an opera house in the United States, called “The New York Opera Company.” Sadly, due to an acute lack of business savvy, Da Ponte’s opera house lasted only two seasons. However, it paved the way for the New York Academy of Music and the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Lorenzo Da Ponte died in 1838 in New York. In 2009, the Spanish director Carlos Saura released a film in Italian called Io, Don Giovanni, a “half fact, half fiction” account of Mozart’s librettist, which attempted to parallel his life with his most famous libretto, Don Giovanni.

Da Ponte and Mozart in Palm Beach

You can see Mozart’s dark Don Giovanni in a film noir version right here at Palm Beach Opera. Tickets are on sale now at pbopera.org.

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