Top 5 most accessible operas for beginners

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Scene from Lohengrin, one of the most accessible Richard Wagner operas.
Scene from Lohengrin, one of the most accessible Richard Wagner operas.

We very often come across people who have never heard a complete opera before. They would really like to take the first step but are unsure which opera to choose. Opera World would like to help and has prepared a chronological list of 5 operas for anyone who wishes to step into this magical world.

1.- Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute)

Mozart’s last work, performed for the first time in 1791, is one of the most performed operas according to Operabase, the international opera database (period 2005-2010). The work is in the form of a Singspiel, a popular form that includes both singing and spoken dialogue. The plot, full of symbolism, resembles that of a fairytale which makes it very attractive for the younger ones. It contains one of the best known arias in the history of opera: Die Hölle Rache, sung by the Queen of the Night. The version we have chosen here is the one directed by the great Swedish artist Ingmar Bergman.

2.- Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville)

This masterpiece by Rossini is also one of the most performed opera buffa operas. It was composed by the Italian musician when he was only 24 (1816) and is based on the second part of the Beaumarchais trilogy. Mozart adapted the second part of the French playwright’s work with Le Nozze di Figaro and the Italian composer Paisiello did the same with his opera, Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Neither of the aforementioned though managed to survive and were eclipsed by the freshness and spark of Rossini’s composition, symbolised by the aria Largo al factotum.The plot unravels such a rich and funny sequence of  situations that one truly forgets the three hours that the opera lasts. The version we suggest is a very original staging by the Spanish stage director Emilio Sagi and includes an international cast of singers headed by the tenor Juan Diego Flórez, one of the great Rossini specialists. 

3.- La Traviata

This is undoubtedly Verdi’s most famous work and, notwithstanding its circumstantial opening night failure, is widely recognised as history’s most performed opera. The plot is based on La Dame aux Camelias by Alexander Dumas son and was considered as an outright provocation by the original audience. Nevertheless, the beauty of its melodies and the strength of its music added to the extraordinary portrayal of its main characters and the way the plot unfolds, has transformed it into a reference point for anyone who knows something about opera. It is one of those operas you simply have to see at least once in your lifetime and the version with Renée Fleming sounds to us like a great way to start. 

4.- Carmen

This opera by George Bizet (1875) is the one we have chosen to include in the French section of our most accessible initiation list to start in the wonderful world of opera. The “exotic” Spanish setting, the dramatic plot which presages Italian Verism and the undeniable popularity and quality of the score, set it out as a natural candidate. The version we suggest is interpreted by Jonas Kaufmann, one of today’s most sought-after and popular tenors. 

5.- La bohème

This capital work by the Italian composer Puccini (1896) shelters what has been defined as “the best death in the history of opera”. Still and all La Boheme is really much more: it mirrors the historical period of a city, Paris, which serves as the background to one of the most beautiful operas ever composed in the history of music. It is precisely the genius of Puccini as he manages orchestral sound and color and the precise musical definition of the characters that turns this great libretto of a nice story into an extraordinary work of unpaired delicacy and refinement. We encourage you to enjoy a “historical” version of the opera with Luciano PavarottiMirella Freni, and Nicolai Ghiaurov. 

ELB