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.