The Top 10 Operatic Drinking Songs

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 12:00 AM

With one of the year's biggest drinking holidays coming up, it's only natural that one would turn to music to get in the mood. And fortunately opera suffers no dearth of libation bearers (one would think that could correlate into more alcohol-induced deaths in the genre, but we'll just assume characters were of a more tolerant stock back then).

Which is why, as we close out 2011, it's only fair to enter 2012 on a festive, rowdy, raucous and ribald note. Below are our top ten picks for opera's (and operetta's) greatest drinking numbers. Read on for more and to tell us: What's your favorite drinking tune in opera? Leave your picks in the comments below.

10. “Drink, Drink, Drink” (The Student Prince)
Okay, fine, The Student Prince is an operetta—and a rarely performed one at that. But this ballad to young love fueled by the clink of beer steins is exactly what you expect to hear in an oom-pah-pah filled biergarten on a summer night. And it’s hard to exclude a song based on a technicality when its title is at the core of this list’s theme.

9. “Ah! Quel dîner” (La Périchole)
This is more of a drunk song than a drinking song, but the booze-fuelled wedding of Offenbach’s La Périchole is a delight for mezzos (and the occasional soprano). The real joy is seeing them stumble around and fake wine-induced hiccups in the name of being true to the character of this Peruvian pauper who inadvertently marries the man she loves.

8. “Votre toast” (Carmen)
Not that I don’t love this song (it’s hard not to melt when a smoldering baritone sings a Hemingway-esque ode to the bullfighting ring), but I put it pretty low on the list because the song itself makes very little references to drinking. But it starts with Escamillo entering a tavern and raising a glass (“Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre”) and it’s so iconic that to discount it would be worthy of bovine impalement.

7. “Certain rat, dans la cuisine” (La Damnation de Faust)
A true drinking song in the sense that this was written for a marginal character to sing in a bar as a prelude to imbibing. The Faust operas tend to feature this scene, true to Goethe’s text. (Wagner, Goethe’s version of Berlioz’s Brander, sings a similar song to a rat which is cut short by Méphistophèles’s “Le veau d’or,” though in Gounod’s world the chorus “Vin ou bierre” itself is a hedonistic hymn.) The irony in this aria, however, ekes it out over Gounod’s—particularly with the sublimely twisted closing chorus of “Amen”s.

6. “Finch’han dal vino” (Don Giovanni)
We get so little of Don Giovanni’s character from his quasi-arias, but what we do get from his so-called “Champagne Aria” is that he likes to drink and he likes to get some. Never has one aria so aptly delved to the core of one character than this brief little ditty, bound to get anyone in the partying mood.

5. “Libiamo ne’leiti calici” (La Traviata)
Pop the cork for Verdi, a composer who has no shortage of drinking songs in his arsenal. This is by far his best-known, explicitly booze-referencing tune (sure, the Duke of Mantua often sings “La donna è mobile” while hoisting a glass, but you can’t count on that). It’s also emblematic of Violetta’s high-flying party girl lifestyle and Alfredo’s unabashed romanticism, both of which go down well with a bit of bubbly.

4. To pivečko!” (The Bartered Bride)
Search all you want, you don’t find as many belles lettres about beer as you will wine and champagne in the opera world. Fortunately, the Czech—who arguably produce the best hoppy drinks in the world—have us covered with their chorus in praise of pivo. Musically, the work takes on a heartier, perhaps even wheatier consistency in keeping with brewskies versus vino. It may not be the first thing you think of when you hear “operatic drinking song,” but it’s as welcome as a Pilsner Urquell on a hot summer evening.

3. “Innaffia l’ugola! Trinca, trincanna!” (Otello)
Verdi has more drinking songs beyond Traviata’s Brindisi, and many of them even better (ironically his most famous lush, Sir John Falstaff, gets the shaft). My personal favorite from Joe Green goes to his other Bard adaptation. Not only is the music intoxicating, but it also plays a key point in the story development (this is where Iago’s plot against Otello thickens).

2. “Intanto, amici, qua…Viva il vino spumeggiante” (Cavalleria Rusticana)
Just as Smetana serves up a top-shelf idyll for beer in The Bartered Bride, Mascagni does similar justice to wine in his chorus in Cavalleria Rusticana. There’s a great diversity of rhythm and tempi, from rapid-fire exchanges between tenor and soprano to pure ice-cream music in Turiddu’s solos. For an opera whose title translates into “Rustic Chivalry,” there’s a lot of Sicilian pastoralism in this piece—far from sour grapes.

1. “Im Feuerstrom der Reben” (Die Fledermaus)
Something about champagne just inspires the bubbliest, perkiest and most addictive music. But it’s not just Johann Strauss II’s driving, make-you-want-to-kick-up-your-heels score that makes this our number one pick, it’s also the fact that champagne is what gets the blame for the opera’s entire conflict. And this chorus sets it all into action. Now THAT’S a number.


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Comments [27]

Martin from Oxford

Your list is a great idea, and has lasting power. I would make room for this, from Cosi Fan Tutte, near the end, a meltingly beautiful quartet, despite everything:

E nel tuo, nel mio bicchiero
Si sommerga ogni pensiero
E non resti più memoria
Del passato ai nostri cor.

GUILELMO (da sè)
Ah, bevessero del tossico,
Queste volpi senza onor!
(If only they drank poison, These wolves without conscience!)

Dec. 07 2016 04:30 AM

Wow, posts from 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. DD~~


Dec. 31 2014 05:40 PM
CastaDiva from New York, NY

Yes, Hamlet's aria O vin dissipe la tristesse should have been included in the piece.

And here's another: Turiddu's aria in Cavallaria Rusticana, Viva il vino spumeggiante.

Don't know if coffee counts, but there's a whole ode to coffee in J. S.Bach's Coffee Cantata.

Dec. 31 2014 08:51 AM

Although not exactly an opera, perhaps the greatest choral masterpiece on this theme for me is "Carmina Burana" by Orff.

Dec. 31 2013 11:43 AM

What happened to the drinking song from Thomas' Hamlet, "oh, vin,dissipe la tristesse"! Now THERE's a drinking song!

Dec. 31 2013 10:47 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Thank you for mentioning that Lucrezia Borgia's reputation was undeserved. Her father used her for political marriages. Her last marriage to the Duke of Ferrara was a happy one and produced eight or nine children. she died from complications from childbirth. Sick and tired of seeing her portrayed as a slut and a whore.

Dec. 31 2013 09:52 AM

Way to recycle last year's list...

Dec. 31 2012 11:36 AM
Drinking Songs Sheet Music

I love drinking songs too. I just found this new site that gives FREE Drinking Songs Sheet Music! I've always wanted to learn the lyrics and music of those obscure English and Irish Drinking Songs and now I can!

Feb. 24 2012 04:39 PM
concetta nardone

Lucrezia Borgia drinking song. The opera mentions wine from Siracusa Sicily. Supposedly the Borgias used Siracusan wine when they were going to poison someone. I visited Siracusa in 1992 and had some of their wonderful wine. Great wine to be poisoned by.

Jan. 02 2012 01:01 PM
Laurence Lubin from Fort Lee, NJ

Three favorites of the basso repertoire:
The Porter Song ("Lass' mich euch fragen")from Martha by Flotow;
Falstaff's Drinking Song ("Als Bueblein klein") from Nicolai's Merry Wives of Windsor; and my favorite,
"Quand la flamme de l'amour" from Bizet's La Jolie Fille de Pertn, a superb portrait of a lovelorn lad crying into his beer.

Dec. 31 2011 11:12 PM
Lisa Hirsch from Oakland, CA

Add me to the people surprised by the omission of the Lucrezia Borgia aria.

Does Lady Macbeth's brindisi count?

Dec. 31 2011 11:27 AM
Peter O'M from Oakland, New Jersey



I just viewed the Keenlyside clip (we didn't see the opera), and while I will quibble about the costumes and the general dudes in a pub look (sorry: that doesn't say "Hamlet" to me), it was well sung and well acted despite the carping comments, which is true of Youtube in general. I think the same people troll around no matter what the genre and say pretty much the same stuff.

Dec. 30 2011 12:29 PM
Karen T. from Bayonne, NJ

I am sorry, but as long as you admitted The Student Prince into the fray,
and I very much approve! It would certainly be one of my top three choices...I must add The Vagabond King and his wonderful drinking song, which I have performed in public, myself at parties and coffee houses stone cold sober!
I do like Otello's, The Barted Bride's and La Traviata's as well as Cavalleria Rusticana's Drinking Songs.

Here's a toast to the rowdy in all of us!

Happy New Year!

Dec. 29 2011 04:19 PM
Tom from Sparta, NJ

Your #1 and #2 would be mine as well. I would add that the best thing about the "Fledermaus" drinking song is that it segues into "Brüderlein und Schwesterlein," Dr. Falke's aria followed by the chorus. It's my favorite scene in the whole operetta, and "Die Fledermaus" has so many wonderful scenes.

Dec. 29 2011 04:13 PM

Peter, if "Drig Drig Drig Drig" is number 11, "O vin" is definitley my number 12 (perhaps we should have done Top 12 in honor of 2012?). I'm a fan of Thomas's arias in general, but as you pointed out Hamlet's drinking song with the players, though sardonic and manic, is one of the glittering highlights of the moody Danish work. (cf: Keenlyside's great interpretation of it at the Met last spring:

Dec. 29 2011 04:07 PM
Les Bernstein from Miami, Florida

Well, if operettas are included, how about the "Schnapslied" from Lehar's "Paganini"? I can't get enough Lehar', drinking songs or not.

Dec. 29 2011 09:48 AM
Constantine from New York

Warning! Spoiler!

Re: "Il segreto per esser felice" from Act 2 of Lucrezia Borgia:

If Scott Rose stuck around for the end of the act, he might not have found the aria such an encouragement to imbibe: the drinking has exactly the result that you would expect in an opera of that title, which follows legend rather than history. (There is of course every reason to believe that the lady's reputation in that respect was undeserved.)

Dec. 28 2011 10:28 PM

"Brown October Ale" from Reginald de Koven's comic opera Robin Hood.

Dec. 28 2011 06:23 PM
David from Flushing

Perhaps due to the beer hall influence of his native Germany, Handel introduced a drinking song into his oratorio "Belshazzar" (1745):

Ye tutelar gods of our empire, look down,
And see what rich trophies your victory crown.
Let our bounteous gifts, which our gratitude raise,
Wine, gold, merry notes, pay our tributes of praise.
Sesach, this night is chiefly thine,
Kind donor of the sparkling wine!

Dec. 28 2011 02:52 PM
Peter O'Malley from Oakland, New Jersey

How could you omit every baritone's favorite high point from a usually neglected opera, "O vin, dissipe la tristesse": from Ambroise Thomas's "Hamlet"? It could still get in there if you disqulaify "Drink, drink, drink" as not being from a purist's opera (though I really like the song).

Dec. 28 2011 01:21 PM
Scott Rose from Manhattan

At the beginning of the second act of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, Maffio Orsini sings an infectious drinking song, "Il segreto per esser felici," the secret to be being happy. "Scherzo e bevo, e derido gl'insani" he sings, providing me with all the encouragement I need to hoist a flute (or two) of blanc des blancs.

Dec. 28 2011 12:46 PM
Helene Lindqvist from Germany

Cheers! Well done! I feel like citing Sondheim "here's to the ladies who lunch...I'll drink to that!" - but that is probably wildly out of category... :)

Dec. 28 2011 11:32 AM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

I'll drink to all of the choices.
Happy New Year

Dec. 28 2011 10:07 AM

Admittedly, Paul, I struggled to get "Drig, Drig, Drig, Drig" in there (one of my fav Offenbach numbers period) but it had to take a backseat to the boozy nuptials in the same composer's Périchole.

Dec. 28 2011 10:07 AM
Greg from New Jersey

Although a rarely performed opera, there is a wonderful drinking song from Smetana's "The Bartered Bride". It calls for young men to charge the glasses and give a toast to beer! Drink it all down! Drink it all down! Drink it all down!!

Dec. 28 2011 09:10 AM


"Old Joe has gone fishing" from Peter Grimes - surely the grimmest drinking song

"Mr President, honored guests" from Nixon in China is a toast, if not really a drinking song though I think Kissinger has a stumbling around drunk aria.

Dec. 28 2011 08:42 AM
Paul Pelkonen from Brooklyn, NY

Olivia, you're brilliant. And you write a great column. But you missed a few:
"Drig, drig, drig, drig, drig, drig, maître Luther!" from the decidedly dipsomaniac first act of Les contes d'Hoffmann
"The Song of Kazan" from Boris Godunov (not really about drinking but sung in a tavern as a drinking song
And of course from the American composer John Lee Hooker, "One bourbon, one Scotch, one beer" which is a mini-opera in itself.

Dec. 28 2011 08:34 AM

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