This is a continuation of a previous blog.
Operas in the A list, the core repertoire of all opera houses, are all about love.
It began with love. The first operas were written on the story of Orpheus who descends into hell to try to bring back his beloved Euridice. Operas on this plot include both endings: he always looks back, but sometimes love goes wrong and she does not return to earth, and other times the gods are so charmed by him that they reward him anyway.
Mozart always writes about love. Figaro is full of love: the countess mourns its end, and Figaro and Susanna celebrate its beginning. Cherubino loves the countess; the countess still loves her husband, who is wild for Susanna; Susanna and Figaro love each other. Barbarina loves Cherubino. It’s almost too complicated to describe, but amazingly it all ends well.
Don Giovanni is about love in another sense. That the Don is drawn to the women he pursues cannot be doubted. He is seen as a kind of personification of evil because he cannot live within the confines of traditional love. This is a difficult perspective to maintain in modern times—thus my suggestion to portray him as the always randy Austin Powers. Donna Elvira truly loves him, and provides the human perspective. The Don is punished in the end to validate the importance of love.
In Magic Flute true love is the reward for virtuous accomplishment. In the case of Papageno it may be the reward for annoying persistence. Love is the goal for which we strive.
Rossini’s Barber of Seville is all about the successful pursuit of a young woman who is locked away by her guardian. Love triumphs.
In Lucia di Lammermour a young woman loves one man and is forced to marry another. This is a new era of opera where true love wins by bringing all the characters to a tragic end.
Lohengrin breaks his vow to the Knights of the Grail by marrying Elsa. Love is his guiding light but ends tragically when Elsa forces him to reveal his identity.
The Lord of the Rings is just about a stupid ring that men covet and fight over. The Ring of the Nibelungen is about love: the love of the Rhine maidens for their gold, the love of Siegmund and Sieglinde, the love of Wotan for his daughter Brünnhilde, and finally it is about the love of Siegfried and Brünnhilde. Only the Rhine maidens are successful in love. All the others go down in flames.
Rigoletto is about his love for his daughter, Gilda, and the love of Gilda for her student, Gualtier Maldee. This turns out to be a cruel joke perpetrated by the duke of Mantua. When Rigoletto tries to exact revenge, his life turns to dust.
In Il Trovatore the troubadour, a gypsy, falls in love with Leonora, a woman far above his class. Through a lot of complications about class and prejudice against gypsies, all ends in tragedy.
La Traviata is about true love, can there be true love with a prostitute? Should we give up love when it interferes with social status?
Faust has spent his entire life in study and wants to experience love with Marguerite. He ruins her life in the process, but she just manages to save her soul. Faust worries a lot about souls.
Masked Ball is about illicit love and the political danger this can cause.
Tristan and Isolde is nothing but a very long, tragic love song.
In Die Meistersinger marriage with Eva is the reward for Walther’s successful entry into the prize competition.
Aida is a love triangle between Rhadames, the slave girl Aida and her mistress Amneris. Rhadames never had a hope of union with Aida and sacrifices all for her.
Carmen warns Don Jose, “If you love me, beware of me.” He ignores this advice and loves her anyway. He is not sufficiently interesting to hold the tempestuous Carmen.
The Tales of Hoffmann is about loving foolishly. Each of Hoffmann’s loves has a tragic flaw which he does not see.
Manon is yet another opera about loving prostitutes. These are always doomed.
Otello is the man who has everything, love and success in war, but is brought down by jealousy.
Both Cavalleria rusticana and I pagliacci are about married women fooling around with other men and bringing grief to all.
In La Boheme true love is foiled through illness and poverty.
Tosca. Love comes to a sudden, tragic end.
Madama Butterfly loves her Pinkerton to the end, through his complete betrayal.
In Der Rosenkavalier the story begins with love between Octavian and the Marschallin and moves to love between Octavian and Sophie.
This is the A list of opera, the works which form the center of all opera repertoire, and they are all about love. If you want your opera to live on, at least give it a fighting chance in the opera world of tomorrow, make it be about love. Give the characters something to sing about. Because opera is about love.