Step up the romance a notch this Valentine’s Day and woo your lover with the high passions of opera.
From heart-fluttering love at first sight…
…to death-defying romance …
...to unadulterated physical passion …
… opera has it all.
So we’ve put together a playlist of the most romantic, heartbreaking tunes in opera. We’ve got the music sorted – so dust off your Sunday Best, dig out some candles, invite your lover around and have an evening to remember.
We’ve set the tone with the delicate “Che gelida manina”, sung by Rodolfo in La bohème when he first touches Mimì’s cold little hand. “What a frozen little hand,” he sings. “Let me warm it for you…”
Lest things get too serious too quickly, we follow up with the famous “Habanera” from Carmen. “Love is a rebellious bird, that nobody can tame” sings the coquettish gypsy woman, “and you call him quite in vain if it suits him not to come.”
Test the waters with a seductive duet from Don Giovanni, as the serial seducer tries to add the innocent bride-to-be Zerlina to his conquests. “Come, come, my darling, to restore our pleasure of an innocent love!” (innocent, adulterous … all the same to Don Giovanni).
Next up is the flighty “Sempre libera” from Verdi’s La traviata, in which the heroine Violetta sings of her first taste of love, while wondering whether she can give up the freedom she so loves for a chance at happiness with the dashing young Alfredo.
The mood gets a little more serious as we turn to the love-struck Radamès in Aida. In this regal aria, he sings of the celestial beauty of the princess Aida. Try out these words as you woo: “Heavenly [insert name here], divine form, mystical garland of light and flowers, you are queen of my thoughts, you are the splendour of my life.”
Follow up with the beautiful, heart-wrenching “D’amour l’ardente flamme”, from The Damnation of Faust. This is a lament, as Marguerite sings of her everlasting love for Faust, even after he has abandoned her. “Love’s fiery flame consumes my beautiful days … O the flame caresses! I would one day see my soul exhale in his kisses of love!”
Now the mood is turning serious, follow up with the romantic crescendos of “O soave fanciulla”, as Rodolfo and Mimì sing of their blossoming love in La bohème. “Ah! Love, you rule alone!”
Love grows and grows with a little bit of longing, so next up we have Cio-Cio-San’s hopeful aria “Un bel di vedremo” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, as the geisha waits faithfully for the return of her American husband. “One fine day,” she sings, “we will see a strand of smoke arising…”
Pull on the heartstrings a little more with Cavaradossi’s rich account of his first touch of the beautiful soprano Floria Tosca. In Tosca, he sings “E lucevan le stelle” while in prison, doomed to die. “Oh tender kisses, sweet caresses, while trembling, I beheld her beautiful form freed of its gown … alas I die in despair, when I have never before loved life so much!”
In case things are getting a little heavy, feel the magic of love at first sight again with the evocative music of “The Presentation of the Rose” from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier.
Next up, Don José’s powerful “Flower song” from Carmen tells of the stubborn power of attraction. “I began to curse you, and hating you, I began to tell myself: Why should fate put you on my path? Then I accused myself of blasphemy … I only felt but one desire … to see you again!”
As the candles burn down to the last of the wax, we turn to duets. The famous flower duet from Lakme is sung by two women, but it is pure acoustic romance (and has been used to startlingly erotic effect in films).
Similarly, Bizet’s great ode to friendship in The Pearlfishers, “Au fond du temple saint” is sung by two men in love with the same woman. They sing of her beauty, but swear she will not become between their friendship (spoiler: she does).
The great love story in Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle is, alas, awkwardly between twin siblings, but the music is beautiful. Siegmund and Sieglinde sing of their awakening love as a springtime which banishes the wintry storms. “You are the spring for which I longed, in the frosty winter time.”
Finally, no opera playlist would be complete without the showstopper aria “Nessun Dorma” sung by Calaf in Turandot. It’s actually not really a romantic tale – Calaf is singing of his impending victory over the Princess Turandot, who will have to marry him if she cannot work out his name by sunrise. She has commanded her people to discover his secret, on pain of death. And as he waits for a dawn of pleasure, her people mourn their death sentence. But it is a hell of a tune, guaranteed to set hearts aflame!
Happy Valentine’s Day!