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.