Celebrated Operas: Complete Synopses

An Opera is a staged dramatic work which blends the elements of music, dance and theatre. Opera, meaning work in Italian, realizes the Baroque ambition of integrating different forms of art. Music, drama, costumes, and the art of staging are the fundamental ingredients of this visual cum audio art. However, music and singing remain its unique features. Innovation of modern composers and new takes on classical repertoire, offer variety that ensures there is something for all tastes. 

Classic Operas

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Premiere Date: 1 May, 1786

The Marriage of Figaro is a comedy opera in four acts. The story revolves around women outwitting their men, and master servant clash. The characters of the play have natural ability and intelligence to win over nobility and power. This social satire written few years before the French Revolution was considered controversial at that time.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Premiere Date: 29 October, 1787

This is an opera in two acts about a young, egotistical, sexually prolific nobleman, Don Giovanni. He outrages and ill-treats everyone else in the cast until he comes across something he cannot dodge, beat up, outsmart or kill.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Premiere Date: 30 September, 1791

The Magic of Flute opera is in three parts – Blackening, Whitening and Reddening, the three alchemical stages of turning metals into gold. Just as metals can transform into gold, the human soul can also be purified of its sins. It’s a journey set forth by Tamino in the pursuit of love, peace and light in the world affected by destruction, darkness and death.

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi

Premiere Date: 11 March, 1851

Rigoletto, an opera in three parts, is considered to be one the first masterpieces by Verdi. The plot revolves around, Rigoletto, a hunchback jester in the court of Duke of Mantua. He conspires to kill the Duke, whom his daughter loves, but ends up killing his own daughter Gilda.

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi

Premiere Date: 6 March, 1853

La Traviata or The Fallen Women is an opera in four acts but often played in three. The plot is a basic love lost story: boy meets girl and they fall in love. Then the girl leaves the boy, but later reconciles with him on her deathbed.

Composer: Georges Bizet

Premiere Date: 3 March, 1875

Carmen is one of the most loved operas of all time and is staged in four acts. It revolves around Carmen, an amoral, wild gypsy woman who tempts a dignified Spanish soldier, Jose. She meets her fate at the point of a knife when Jose kills her in a fit of jealousy.

Composer: Ruggero Leoncavallo

Premiere Date: 21 May, 1892

Pagliacci is an opera in two acts that revolves around a small group of traveling clowns or players. It is about love and jealousy, and their dramas are reflected during their stage performances and leads to murder.

Composer: Gioacomo Puccini

Premiere Date: 1 February, 1896

La Boheme is an opera in four acts that focuses on the love between Mimi and Rodolfo. He leaves the fatally ill, Mimi because of her flirtatious behavior. But he reunites with her for a brief moment before she passes away.

Composer: Gioacomo Puccini

Premiere Date: 14 January, 1900

Tosca is an Italian tragedy in three acts. It is a story of politics, violence, corruption and sex that exposes the viciousness of desperate people focused on their own needs.

Composer: Gioacomo Puccini

Premiere Date: 17 February, 1904

Madame Butterfly is a tragic opera in three parts. It takes place within a house in Nagasaki and is devoid of spectacles. A girl falls in love with a boy and looses him. She commits hara kiri – a ritual suicide.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

Premiere Date: 20 November, 1805

Fidelio is a two act love drama. Its plot is simple. Loves wins over injustice, particularly, martial love.

Composer: Richard Strauss

Premiere Date: 25 January, 1909

Elektra is a one act musical drama based on a Greek tragedy. The plot revolves around Elektra who is determined to revenge her father’s death from her mother and her paramour. She persuades her little sister to kill them but before their plan materializes, their banished brother Orest, takes revenge. Electra falls dead in an ecstatic dance of victory.

Composer: Gioacchino Rossini

Premiere Date: 29 November, 1825

The Barber of Seville is a comic opera in two acts. The story takes place in Seville where Count Almavia is interested in Rosina, whose guardian goes to a great extent to protect her as he himself wants to marry her. After a series of comical and confusing events, the Count succeeds in marrying Rosina with the help of a barber.

Composer: Richard Strauss

Premiere Date: 1 July, 1933

Arabella is a German comic opera in three acts. The story revolves around a young self assured woman who is unable to make her mind amongst her many suitors. Eventually, she falls for a strong mysterious young man.

Composer: Gioacchino Rossini

Premiere Date: 3 August, 1829

Guillaume (William) Tell is a French opera in four acts based on the Swiss legend of William Tell who wants to free his country from Austrian domination.

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