Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. This can be a very happy occasion for the person in a healthy relationship. For the rest of civilization, it is yet another day to mourn love lost and to remember past romantic failures. Sometimes the best cure for the blues is to remind ourselves that it could be much worse. And if there is any art form which can drive home this truth, it is opera.
Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart’s Don Giovanni tells the story of a libertine, Giovanni, who sleeps with just about every woman he meets. He even disguises himself as Donna Anna’s fiancé in order to seduce her. Her father, a Commendatore, fights Giovanni for his daughter’s honor and is slain. However, Giovanni does not escape his sins. In the final act the Commendatore returns from the grave and drags him to Hell.
Carmen by Georges Bizet
Have you ever fallen in love with the wrong person? If so, you will definitely relate to Don Jose in Georges Bizet’s Carmen. This opera follows the downward spiral of a young soldier as he pursues the affection of Carmen, a fiery woman who will not be tied down to any man. He kills for her, goes to jail for her, and abandons his family and the love of a young woman from his village. However, she decides to use him only for her advantage, and to leave him as soon as she finds someone better. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for either of them.
La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi
Sometimes the relationship doesn’t work out because of the other person’s family. This is definitely the case in Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. Violetta, a beatuful courtesan, finds true love and adoration in the young Alfredo. They live together in constant bliss until Alfredo’s father arrives unannounced. He pleads in secret for Violetta to leave Alfredo, because his relationship with a courtesan is a smear on the family name. He convinces her that Alfredo would be much happier with a nice girl from a good family back home. She writes a letter telling Alfredo that she is leaving him to resume her former life. They are reunited at a party which she is attending with her new lover, Baron Douphol. Alfredo is mad with anger and jealousy, and insults her cruelly. She faints, and we discover in the final act that she is dying of what was then termed consumption. Alfredo comes to her bedside having learned of the sacrifice she made for him. The opera ends as Violetta dies in his arms.
La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini
The love between Mimi and Rodolfo, two poor artists living in Paris, is undeniable. However, Mimi is showing signs of being very ill; she has frequent coughing fits and is frail. Rodolfo doesn’t think he can bear the burden of her illness, and she overhears him explaining this to his friend. They break up, and he only sees her again when she returns to the attic where they first met. The curtains close as she dies from a final tuberculotic attack.
For more tragic operas to get you through your Valentine’s Day depression, check out these titles:
Aida - Giuseppe Verdi
Madama Butterfly - Giacomo Puccini
Tosca - Giacomo Puccini
Turandot - Giacomo Puccini
Il Trovatore - Giuseppe Verdi