From murderous to mad, mums in opera get a pretty bad rap. Ahead of mother’s day, we thought we’d find the best of mums in opera to celebrate. Curiously, we couldn’t find many. (Did most opera composers have terrible relationships with their mothers?)
Scheming, suicidal, murderous or mysteriously absent, Mums in opera are great characters to play but not the world’s best parenting examples.
(On a side note, fathers in opera are generally awesome. Verdi gives us lots of tearjerker scenes between fathers and children.)
So here’s a playlist of opera’s worst mothers!
Let’s see – hell bent on vengeance, The Queen of the Night (The Magic Flute, Mozart) sings one of opera’s most famous arias “vengeance boils in my heart”. She gives her daughter Pamina a dagger and commands her to kill the wise Sarastro. And she promises Pamina in marriage to a villain she can’t stand. All in an opera’s work.
Sending your children into a dark forest all alone … to look for strawberries? This good parenting award goes to Gertrud, in Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck). To her credit, she is a bit upset when she hears about the human-eating witch…
Clytemnestra in Strauss’ Elektra murdered her husband, so her kids are understandably a little freaked out. She drives her son into exile and sends her daughters almost to madness. It’s great drama. Not great parenting.
In Bellini’s Norma, the title mum picks up a dagger and looks upon her sleeping children. She thinks about killing them to stop them falling into enemy hands. To her credit, she thinks better of it.
Azucena didn’t meant to throw her own baby onto a flaming pyre in Verdi’s Il Trovatore – but she did mean to throw in somebody’s baby, so she makes the list.
Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti) poisons her own son twice. In fact, she poisons an entire village.
And finally, because they’re not all bad, a heartbreaking scene from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly as Cio-Cio-San chooses suicide to give her son a better life in America.