Top Five Opera Scenes for Jaded Hearts

Tune in to the Operavore Stream all this week for operas of love and lust

Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Verdi's 'Rigoletto' Verdi's 'Rigoletto' (© Ferdinando Scianna / Magnum Photos)

On Valentines Day, hundreds of couples will get dressed to the nines and go to the opera for a romantic evening (the Met is offering Prince Igor that night). But while several operas weave sincere tales of undying love, an equal number seem to undermine the actual notion of love and make fools of those who profess it. There are enough cynics in the repertory to create a lengthy playlist for the anti-Valentine’s Day set. Here are the top five selections to include:

1. Verdi’s Rigoletto

A woman is like a feather, blowing in the wind, claims the womanizing Duke of Mantua in his most famous aria, “La donna è mobile.” Ironically, in this opera, Verdi’s Rigoletto, it’s the Duke whose favors waiver, first seducing the titular character’s daughter Gilda before turning his attentions toward the innkeeper’s sister Maddelena. Tragically, it’s Gilda’s fervent feelings toward the Duke that brings about her death.

 

2. Mozart's Cosi fan tutte

In Cosi fan tutte Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte test the virtue of four lovers and they all fail miserly. The opera begins with the elder Don Alfonso’s comment about female fidelity, (È la fede delle femmine): everyone has heard of it, but no one has seen it. But it’s not just the women who forsake their vows; the men do, too.

 

3. Mozart's Don Giovanni

Perhaps Mozart and Da Ponte were skeptics when it of matters of the heart, because many of their great characters share that attitude. In their opera Don Giovanni they present one of Western cannon’s great cynics, but they reserve the great cynical aria for Giovanni’s servent, Leporello, who counts his employer’s exploits in “Madamina: il catalogo è questo.” He pursues women, Leporello explains, for the mere pleasure of adding to the list.

 

4. Berg's Lulu

The most romantic composer of the Second Viennese School, Alban Berg, inspired by the playwright Franz Wedekind, created one of the 20th century’s most cynical operas, Lulu. In the opera’s prologue a ringmaster of a debauched circus introduces Lulu as a serpent, who kills without a trace. Over the course of the opera this femme fatale ensnares men (and a woman) who come to her professing their love. She then uses their devotion and money, before disposing of them.

 

5. Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin

Only a truly misanthropic person would tell a lovesick girl who’s just professed her love that she should keep her emotions to herself, but that’s what Eugene Onegin does at the end of Act I of the eponymous opera by Tchaikovsky. Not content with spoiling a 17-year old’s dreams, the protagonist then alleviates his boredom by flirting with his best friend fiancé, before killing the friend in a duel.

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Comments [6]

Sarah Faux from NYC

I love this piece.

Feb. 18 2014 04:31 PM
Margaret from Brooklyn

None of you caught "waiver" in place of waver in the Rigoletto piece: "it’s the Duke whose favors waiver"

Feb. 14 2014 04:01 PM
HS

Two good catches, Duck, can't believe I missed those. Gotta lay off the Nyquil....

Feb. 14 2014 11:44 AM

I'm with HS. Often, WQXR corrects their posts and then deletes the comment that points out the errors. That said, there's also:

Don G: "In their opera Don Giovanni they present one of Western cannon’s great cynics," (which should be canon's), and

Eugene O: "spoiling a 17-year old’s dreams," (which should be a 17-year-old's).

But I liked the OperaVore post.

DD~~

Feb. 13 2014 09:45 PM
HS

Okay, I'm not normally this compulsive, but I'm an editor home sick with the flu and I have too much time on my hands. And this page needs work.

First off, that picture is not from any production of Rigoletto. It's being used to advertise an upcoming production of Rigoletto that will appear this May at the Théâtre Royal de La Monnaie, but according to Magnum's website, it's a photograph taken in 1971 by Ferdinando Scianna, entitled "The clown Calendo smoking". It's from a series the photographer did on European clowns and circuses.

Then here: "Tragically, it’s Gilda’s fervent feelings toward the Duke that brings about her death." "Feelings" is the plural subject so the verb should be "bring", without the s.

Then here: "In Cosi fan tutte Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte test the virtue of four lovers and they all fail miserly." Might you mean that last word to be "miserably"?

Then here: "Perhaps Mozart and Da Ponte were skeptics when it of matters of the heart..." Perhaps that should read "...when it comes to matters of the heart...."?

And finally, here: "Not content with spoiling a 17-year old’s dreams, the protagonist then alleviates his boredom by flirting with his best friend fiancé, before killing the friend in a duel." That should read "his best friend's fiance", I'm afraid. Singular possessive.

Okay, I've vented my spleen. Will now freebase some Nyquil and head back off to bed.

Feb. 13 2014 05:04 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Cosi is an opera with a bad opinion of women. Don Giovanni has awful women, Zerlina looking for a better deal, Donna Anna who just keeps mourning her dead father and tormenting Don Ottavio, who should leave her and find someone more worthy of his love and Don Elvira who goes on and on about her betrayal.
As for the Don, scoundrel, he just keeps seducing me.

Feb. 13 2014 11:08 AM

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