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With 3 operas on 1 night, which do you pick?



When three opera companies in one city all open their seasons on the same night, which opera do you attend? On Saturday, September 26, 2015, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago Opera Theater, and Chicago Fringe Opera opened their seasons, performing The Marriage of Figaro, Lucio Silla, and The Turn of the Screw respectively.

With two operas by Mozart and one by Britten, opera loving Chicagoans had some tough decisions to make about what to attend. Though I couldn’t be in all three places at once, WFMT staff attended each of the three performances to ask audience members why they decided to attend. I also spoke with leaders at each company to learn why they programmed these operas as their season openers.

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s The Marriage of Figaro


Lyric’s General Director Anthony Freud told me he chose The Marriage of Figaro to open the current season because it “is one of the greatest of all operas, indeed it is one of the great masterpieces of Western art. It is life-enhancing, funny, moving and tells us as much about our lives today as about those of the characters of the opera, which is set in the late eighteenth century. What a perfect, celebratory way to open our 61st season.”

In the company’s 61-year history, Figaro has been performed during 9 different opera seasons, most recently during the 2009-10 season. Though Figaro is a favorite on Lyric’s stage, the company “has not done a new production of Figaro for 28 years,” Freud said, adding, “It was high time we created a new production of it.” For the new Figaro, Lyric teamed up with Barbara Gaines, artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Freud said that Figaro, with a libretto by the revolutionary Beaumarchais, “is a perfect piece for Barbara Gaines…The characters in Figaro are multilayered and complex, allowing Barbara to explore them with our wonderful cast and conductor, and to bring them vividly and unforgettably to life.”

Programming Figaro as the season opener fits with the company’s mission to present a “wide range of operatic, musical and theatrical styles,” Freud said.  “This season’s repertoire encompasses a world premiere (Bel Canto) alongside operatic masterpieces, both tragic and comic, spanning three centuries.”


Craig Hensel and his wife Summer were excited to see their first opera ever on Lyric’s opening night. Summer explained, “Our son will be in Wozzeck later this season, so we’re just so excited to get to come and be a part of this season.” Though Summer didn’t know much about the opera in advance, she said “I’m super pumped. I’m a big classical music geek. I would watch Amadeus for fun.”

Amy Potter and Saint Lovett came to opening night together on a date. Potter said her aunt and uncle are season subscribers, and so is she. She decided to bring Lovett along to enjoy this new production of Figaro, who was visiting the Civic Opera House for the first time. Lovett said he’s “a big fan of Figaro. It’s the one opera I’ve actually heard of so I’m really looking forward it.” He added, “I just love beautiful music, the ambience, the environment, it’s great to see so many people out tonight for the show.”

Michelle Mbekeani, from Oak Park, said “The Marriage of Figaro has definitely been a favorite since high school, so I am looking forward to it, I’m a big fan.” She likes going to opening night because, “I always love seeing people and what they’re wearing, the energy – everyone’s really excited for the upcoming season, and it’s always a good opening night.”

Randy Wostratzky, who came to opening night with his wife, is a part of Lyric’s Young Professional group, and was looking forward to experiencing his second Mozart opera. Previously, Wostratsky had seen The Magic Flute at Lyric. He said that he likes attending opening night because, “there’s nothing like it. It’s really kind of one of the most unique events someone can go to.” He likes being able to come to the Civic Opera House to enjoy a drink and the crowd before seeing “one of the greatest performances from one of the greatest composers of all time.”

Kim and Stefan Zajczenko attended opening night with their two daughters not only to celebrate Lyric’s 61st season, but also to celebrate their 16th anniversary! They come to opening night every season for their anniversary, and this year, they decided to bring their daughters, Natalie and Stephanie, after they enjoyed Carousel at Lyric earlier this year.

Wyatt Steel attended his second opera by going to Lyric’s opening night of Figaro. The first opera he saw ever was Aida at Lyric years ago. What brought him back to the Civic Opera House? “The date! The date was the reason,” he said, motioning to his girlfriend. “We were talking about it. We both had an interest, and it became something that we just put together pretty quickly. For a date night, it’s a great idea. We’re looking forward to the show and the atmosphere is great!” His girlfriend was attending the opera for the very time, and was glad to have an occasion to dress up and hear some amazing music.

Shaheen Ranjha and her husband Alex were glad to attend opening night at Lyric because “it’s been quite a number of years since we’ve been here. We haven’t been to an opening night before. We’ve been away for so long, why not start with an opening night?” Shaheen, who was dressed in a beautiful gown with matching head piece, added, “there’s a lot of energy, you can sense from everyone’s faces that there’s a lot of anticipation, everyone’s excited to be here, everyone’s dressed up for the occasion. It’s a beautiful night!”

Listen to some of the remarks above and the ambience in the Rice Grand Foyer of the Civic Opera House:

Chicago Opera Theater’s Lucio Silla


Down the street from the Civic Opera House, while Figaro was already mid-way through his “day of folly,” another Mozart opera was just about to begin: Lucio Silla at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

Andreas Mitisek, Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson General Director of Chicago Opera Theater, told me that he selected Lucio Silla because of the “opportunity to have a Mozart opera premiere in Chicago. Our season opener fits in with what the company does. We like to bring people something new and unexpected.”

Lucio Silla, like many of Mozart’s early works, is rarely revived in modern times in comparison to his later operas. “It was written when Mozart was 16,” Mitisek said. “It is a powerful piece with wonderful music that already foreshadows the great music and operas that we already know.” Though Mozart was young when he composed Lucio Silla, Mitisek reminded me that “it was his eighth opera, so he was already an experienced opera composer.”

“You could almost call it La clemenza di Silla because there are overarching themes, both musically and dramaturgically, between this early opera and what he was working on at the end of his life, La clemenza di Tito. Actually when I listen to Lucio Silla, I hear a lot of Così fan tutte and foreshadowing of Don Giovanni.”


Eric Li decided to attend Lucio Silla because “I know nothing about it,” he said. “When we talk about Mozart, we talk about The Marriage of Figaro, Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni. We’re used to comedy with Mozart but Lucio Silla is a not necessarily characteristic of what we think of his operas.” Li described himself as “a huge opera fan” and considered going to both COT and Lyric’s opening night. “We were one day too late to get tickets to Figaro,” he said, “but I probably won’t see it because I’ve seen it plenty of times.”

Wendy Silhavy said that she and her husband Michael Silhavy are “very excited that Chicago Opera Theater allows us to see rarely staged and performed works. It’s our only chance to see this work. I’ve never heard it before and no one I know has heard it before.” Michael was glad that he had to choose between “two Mozart operas in one city in one night? That’s a pretty great thing! We’re seeing The Marriage of Figaro in a couple of weeks, and we’re subscribers to both Chicago Opera Theater and the Lyric Opera.”

Tina Engels explained that Google got her to Lucio Silla, almost like a plot twist in a Mozart opera:

I got an email about the Lyric Opera’s Figaro, and I just Googled ‘Chicago and opera,’ and this company came up first. I didn’t know this one existed. When I clicked on the link and I saw that this was playing, I didn’t even go any further, I just bought the ticket right away. But then I realized that The Marriage of Figaro at Lyric is so much more expensive. This was one was much more reasonable. I thought about going to both, maybe I’d go to this one this weekend and that one that weekend. But this has been a big year with a lot of expenses. I’m familiar with the Harris Theater, and it’s easy to get here, and it’s so beautiful down here. And I’ve been here for a Mozart concert, so I’m familiar with the Harris from that.

Engels said that while she hadn’t heard of COT, she was familiar with Lucio Silla. “Mozart was so young when he composed it. You know, I had heard the overture many times, and it’s one of my favorites. But, I’ve hardly heard it performed. And I thought, ‘why isn’t anyone else on board with me? This is great!’ So I’m excited to hear the whole thing not just the overture.”

But while Lucio Silla wasn’t new to her, Lucio Silla was her very first live opera. She said that between Lucio Silla and Figaro, cost and the novelty of seeing something different wasn’t the only thing that influenced her decision to attend. “Since it’s my first opera. Two-and-a-half hours is a better introduction to opera for me.”

Mozart lover Miriam Lahey wanted to see Lucio Silla because “it’s not very well performed, but it got a nice review in the Chicago Tribune today.” Moreover, “It’s Mozart! You don’t have to have anything else when it’s Mozart!” Lahey added, “I came to see what he was doing at 16, to see if it prefigures what he is doing in his writing later in life, or to see perhaps that it doesn’t have any connection to it.”

Bart Collopy, Lahey’s date for the evening, said that they enjoy seeing as many operas as they can. “We also subscribe to the Lyric Opera and we’re addicted to the Metropolitan Opera simulcasts which are beamed into the movie theatres here in Chicago. This season we’ll probably see and hear 17 or 18 operas in addition to this one.” Collopy was curious about this particular production of Lucio Silla because, “it’s being done unusually – the recitatives are being done in English and the arias in Italian. It’ll be interesting to see if that works. It’s a bit strange but it might work wonderfully, I don’t know.”

Lucio Silla isn’t the only rarely-performed Mozart opera Alice and Stuart Creason have seen this season. Alice said, “We were just in Santa Fe last month, so we saw another early Mozart opera there – La finta giardiniera, and Lucio Silla was written just a few years after that. We’re going to see The Marriage of Figaro at Lyric next week. So, it’s fun to see his early style – it’s very much teenage themes and raging hormones going on. But you can also see that hint of what is going to come.”

Alice said she enjoys attending COT performances not just because of the repertoire the company selects but also the singers. “I watched the YouTube video the put online and I was blown away by the female voices,” she said enthusiastically. “I thought, ‘These are some amazing singers, I haven’t heard of them, but they’re amazing!’ It’s nice to hear some up and coming singers, that’s one of the nicer things about going to Chicago Opera Theater.”

Dave Govertsen and John Colemeyer decided that when it comes to Mozart, they both want as much as possible! They attended the opening night of Lucio Silla at the Harris, but listened to WFMT’s broadcast of the first two acts of Lyric’s Figaro during the drive to the theatre. Goversten said, Both of us are excited to see an opera that we’ve never seen before by a composer that we know very well. This is the only night I could see Lucio Silla, and there will be 10 or 12 Figaros and I will get to see one of those, but this one I better see!” Colemeyer added, “I’ve seen about 500 different operas in my lifetime and this is one more.”

Chicago Fringe Opera’s The Turn of the Screw



Chicago’s newest opera company, Chicago Fringe Opera, opened their season with a site-specific production of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw in the Berger Park Mansion on Chicago’s far north side. George Cederquist, CFO’s Head of Production and the Stage Director for The Turn of the Screw said, “Based on the success of our first season, we wanted to open our second season with a big production.  Doing an immersive, site-specific production of The Turn of the Screw certainly is big!”

The company selected this piece, Cederquist said, because, “as part of our mission statement, we produce works that are written in English.  Britten, of course, is a natural choice as a composer. The Turn of the Screw provided good roles for our company members, and also allowed us the option of producing the piece in a non-traditional and immersive way.”

“In conceptualizing the production, I knew I needed a mansion that could be transformed into somewhere suitably spooky, but that also had the infrastructure in place for hosting an audience and a cast,” Cederquist explained. “The Chicago Park District liked our pitch of doing the show at the Berger Park Cultural Center, with the audience moving around the rooms of the Mansion,” he continued.  “The location of Berger Park also allowed us to connect with the Edgewater neighborhood, which has a great arts scene itself.”

[Pictured above is Jessie Lyons, soprano, singing Miss Jessel in The Turn of the Screw]


Jonathan Schwart, Stuart Thompson, and Samuel Dewese all attend Lyric performances, but were eager to see CFO’s opening night production. Schwart said he was unaware that Lyric’s opening night was the same as CFO’s, even though he is a subscriber. Thompson, also a Lyric subscriber, said, “Turn of the Screw is a work I’ve always wanted to see and I’ve never seen it yet. The Marriage of Figaro is a favorite, but I’ll see that some other time.” Dewese, like Thompson, said “I like Benjamin Britten a lot and I’ve never seen this opera live.” Dewese added, “I did know that there were other shows tonight, but unlike my friends I am not a subscriber, I buy my tickets a la carte.”

Trina Kakacek, who works in theater said, “I like what Chicago Fringe is doing. I like that they’re on the edge and exploring the art form in a different way and making it accessible to new audiences. I also love promenade-style performances. I do a lot of experimental theater myself, and I love having performers right in your face. It’ll be really interesting to hear singing so close.”

Andra Simon, like Kakecek, is in the arts.  She said, “I work in music and I hadn’t heard about this company before so I wanted to come see their work.” Simon, who attended with her husband James, said she had never seen The Turn of the Screw.  While “I know about the other opera companies in town, I couldn’t tell you what operas they’re doing tonight.”

One audience member, Emily Hasley, found out about CFO’s opening night production when planning her trip to Chicago from Cincinnati. “We heard it was a fringe opera, and we’re from out of town just looking for something interesting to do. We found out about it on the Internet.” She doesn’t consider herself an opera aficionado and didn’t know about Chicago’s other opera companies, but has an adventurous attitude and enjoys “anything with the arts.”


I, Stephen Raskauskas, was joined by Michael San Gabino at the Civic Opera House for Lyric Opera of Chicago’s The Marriage of Figaro, Sarah Zwinklis and Rebecca Nystedt went to the Harris Theater to attend Chicago Opera Theater’s Lucio Silla, and Estlin Usher and Ximena Conde went to The Turn of the Screw at Berger Park Mansion.

For more information about Lyric Opera of Chicago, visit the company’s website.

For more information about Chicago Opera Theater, visit the company’s website.

For more information about Chicago Fringe Opera, visit the company’s website.

Your Soundtrack for the Supermoon Eclipse



Tonight we’ll experience a serendipitous celestial spectacle: a supermoon and a total lunar eclipse! There have been five supermoon eclipses since 1900, with the most recent in 1982. The next won’t occur until 2033. Lucky folks in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and parts of West Asia and the eastern Pacific will be able to see this rare event, according to NASA.

As you’re watching the skies, you need the perfect soundtrack! Composers from Beethoven to Bellini have been musically inspired by the moon and the nighttime. Compiled below is a little night music by your favorite composers, and perhaps a few pieces that may be new to you. Tell us your favorites in the comments below.

“Clair de lune” (Claude Debussy)

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Undoubtedly the most famous piece of Debussy’s most famous piano suite, Suite bergamasque, “Clair de lune” might also be one of the most famous pieces of moon music. Debussy’s picturesque piece for piano was inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem of the same name.

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.
Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,
Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau,
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres.

Your soul is a chosen landscape
Where charming masqueraders go
Playing the lute and dancing and almost
Sad beneath their fanciful disguises.
All sing in a minor key
Of victorious love and the opportune life,
They do not seem to believe in their happiness
And their song mingles with the moonlight,
With the still moonlight, sad and beautiful,
That sets the birds dreaming in the trees
And the fountains sobbing in ecstasy,
The tall slender fountains among marble statues.

“Borobudur in Moonlight” (Leopold Godowsky)

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The Polish American composer Godowsky composed a curious set of piano pieces, Java Suite (Phonoramas), after he encountered gamelan music while he visited Java. His “Borobudur in Moonlight” is one of several picturesque works in the Suite. Borobudur is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia, which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since Godowsky lived contemporaneously with French impressionists like Debussy, who also composed moon music and were also inspired by South Asian music, “Borobudur in Moonlight” offers an interesting comparison to the more popular “Clair de lune.”

 “Song to the Moon” (Antonín Dvořák)

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The most famous excerpt from Antonín Dvořák’s opera Rusalka , a Czech variant on the classic “Little Mermaid” fairy tale found in many cultures, is the “Song to the Moon.”  In the opera, Rusalka, a water nymph, has fallen in love with a human Price whom she has seen by her lake while he was hunting. She tells her father she wants to become a human so that she can be with the Prince on land, despite her father’s warnings. Rusalka asks a witch, Ježibaba, for help. She sings the famous “Song to the Moon,” describing her love for the Prince.

Mesiku na nebi hlubokem
Svetlo tvé daleko vidi,
Po svete bloudis sirokém,
Divas se v pribytky lidi.

Mesicku, postuj chvili
reckni mi, kde je muj mily
Rekni mu, stribmy mesicku,
me ze jej objima rame,
aby si alespon chvilicku
vzpomenul ve sneni na mne.
Zasvet mu do daleka,rekni mu,
rekni m kdo tu nan ceka!
O mneli duse lidska sni,
at’se tou vzpominkou  vzbudi!
Mesicku, nezhasni, nezhasni!

O moon high up in the deep, deep sky,
Your light sees far away regions,
You travel round the wide,
Wide world peering into human dwellings.

O, moon, stand still for a moment,
Tell me, ah, tell me where is my lover!
Tell him. please, silvery moon in the sky,
That I am hugging him firmly,
That he should for at least a while
Remember his dreams!
Light up his far away place,
Tell him, ah, tell him who is here waiting!
If he is dreaming about me,
May this remembrance waken him!
O, moon, don’t disappear, disappear!

“Moonlight” Sonata (Ludwig van Beethoven)

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 One of the most popular compositions for the piano to this day, the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, “Quasi una fantasia” is known as the “Moonlight Sonata.” Marked Adagio sostenuto, Carl Czerny, one of Beethoven’s most accomplished students who is responsible for all of those tedious exercises your piano teacher made you play, said of the movement, “it is a nocturnal scene, in which a mournful ghostly voice sounds from the distance.” Hector Berlioz called it a “lamentation.”

The piece is well known to beginners, and though simple enough, has caused some debate among musicians and musicologists. The reason? Beethoven’s performance indication that, “This whole piece ought to be played with the utmost delicacy and without damper[s].” The direction indicates that pianists are to depress the damper pedal throughout the movement. Though some argue that the pedal should be lifted on occasion to avoid dissonance, or that a compromise be made with either half pedaling or using the sostenuto pedal instead.

“Vaga luna, che inargenti” (Vincenzo Bellini)

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Bellini, the famous opera composer, set an anonymous Italian poem in this charming arietta. He published it along two other similar songs in his Tre aiette inedite. The piece is so simple and charming that it continues to enchant us today, just like the silvery moon. Composed in the bel canto style popular during Bellini’s day, the piece focuses above all on simple, natural melody and simple, natural harmonies. Of course, it wouldn’t be bel canto without a little bit of melisma. The composer adds occasional flourishes to embellish the otherwise placid and smooth vocal line. But, he doesn’t pull out the fireworks like he might in a mad scene in an opera. After all, this is music for the chamber, and was issued as one of fifteen Composizioni da Camera in 1935 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death. The simple elegance of “Vaga luna” has made the piece a favorite for modern voice teachers to introduce their students to bel canto style.

Vaga luna, che inargenti
queste rive e questi fiori
ed inspiri agli elementi
il linguaggio dell’amor;

testimonio or sei tu sola
del mio fervido desir,
ed a lei che m’innamora
conta i palpiti e i sospir.

Dille pur che lontananza
il mio duol non può lenire,
che se nutro una speranza,
ella è sol nell’avvenir.

Dille pur che giorno e sera
conto l’ore del dolor,
che una speme lusinghiera
mi conforta nell’amor.

Beautiful moon, dappling with silver
These banks and flowers,
Evoking from the elements
The language of love

Only you are witness
To my ardent desire;
Go tell her, tell my beloved
How much I long for her and sigh

Tell her that with her so far away,
My grief can never be allayed,
That the only hope I cherish
Is for my future to be spent with her.

Tell her that day and night
I count the hours of my yearning,
That hope, a sweet hope beckons,
And comforts me in my love.

“Notte placida e cheta” (George Frideric Handel)

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One of the most creative periods of Handel’s career were his days training in Italy. There, he rubbed elbows with some of the most famous composers, musicians, and patrons of music of his day. Though Italian opera was popular all over Europe, Handel got to try his chops at composing in the Italian style by working directly with Italian artists, composing dozens of cantatas. The chamber cantatas are for both chamber orchestra and continuo, for a variety of voice types including solo and ensemble works. Some arias and ensembles from his Italian chamber cantatas were so successful that he reused them later in his operas. One very special cantata that Handel composed is “Notte placida e cheta” (“Placid and peaceful night”), a solo cantata con strumenti, meaning, for an ensemble larger than continuo alone. The cantata is full of peaceful, pastoral imagery of a placid night. In the first aria, the speaker describes the gentle breezes. The final aria is an up-tempo minuet, though still remains within the galant, pastoral mode that characterizes the opening of the cantata.

Eine kleine Nachtmusik (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)

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Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik is so popular even today that it’s been turned into a cell phone ring. Mozart composed the piece around the same time that he was working on Don Giovanni. He completed this work for string ensemble in Vienna, and called it a serenade. Music for the evening was often called a serenade. There was even a special genre of dramatic vocal music performed in the evening hours, usually outdoors, called the serenata. Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, unlike more placid pieces like Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata, is ebullient. Certainly we can see why the piece was called “a little night music” if it was intended for festive gatherings just as the sun is setting and the moon is shinning, as laughter bubbles up to the stars and champagne bubbles in glasses.

Verklärte Nacht (Arnold Schoenberg)

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Verklärte Nacht is a representation of Schoenberg’s early compositional style, and was considered Schoenberg’s first important work. The romanticism of this string sextet may be surprising to those familiar with Schoenberg’s later atonal twelve-tone style. As it happens, this composition is romantic in more ways than one: Schoenberg composed it after meeting his future wife, Mathilde von Zemlinsky. But it was chiefly inspired by Richard Dehmel’s poem of the same name, excerpted below.

Zwei Menschen gehn durch kahlen, kalten Hain
der Mond läuft mit, sie schaun hinein.
Der Mond läuft über hohe Eichen;
kein Wölkchen trübt das Himmelslicht,
in das die schwarzen Zacken reichen . . .
Ihr Atem küßt sich in den Lüften.
Zwei Menschen gehn durch hohe, helle Nacht.

Two people are walking through a bare, cold wood;
the moon keeps pace with them and draws their gaze.
The moon moves along above tall oak trees,
there is no wisp of cloud to obscure the radiance
to which the black, jagged tips reach up . . .
Their breath embraces in the air.
Two people walk on through the high, bright night.

Ballet de la nuit (Jean-Baptiste Lully)

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Jean-Baptiste Lully, the Italian composer who came to define the French baroque style in seventeenth century, composed an epic, thirteen hour long ballet that lasted all night, Ballet de la nuit. This ballet de cour was composed of four elaborate tableaus that depict the four stages of night. In the first, night arrives, and the action depicts end of day activities. The second depicts evening entertainments, while the third depicts the fantasies and horrors that happen in the dark of night. In the fourth, dawn arrives. The spectacle took incredible resources to mount, and the production materials were meticulously documented in a deluxe, presentation style manuscript that features 10 scenic and 117 costume designs. Another manuscript copy contains 119 costume designs! Of course, Louis XIV, the sun king, appeared as Apollo, the sun – one of his most famous and favorite guises.

“Der Hölle Rache,” from The Magic Flute (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)

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One of the most famous arias in all of opera is the Queen of the Night’s virtuosic “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“Hells’ vengeance boils in my heart”). In this aria, we see a very, very, dark side of night! The Queen of the Night’s coloratura stretches so high, the singer must truly shoot for the moon. The vocal range of the piece spans two octaves, from F4 to F6.

Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,
Tod und Verzweiflung flammet um mich her!
Fühlt nicht durch dich Sarastro Todesschmerzen,
so bist du meine Tochter nimmermehr.
Verstoßen sei auf ewig,
verlassen sei auf ewig,
zertrümmert sei’n auf ewig
alle Bande der Natur.
wenn nicht durch dich Sarastro wird erblassen!
Hört, hört, hört, Rachegötter, hört, der Mutter Schwur!

The vengeance of hell boils in my heart;
Death and despair blaze around me!
If not by you[r intercession] Sarastro feels the pains of death,
Then you will be my daughter nevermore.
Outcast be forever,
Forsaken be forever,
Shattered be forever
All the bonds of nature
If not by you[r intercession] Sarastro turns pale [in death]!
Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, gods of vengeance, hear the mother’s oath!


Masquerade Suite (Aram Khachaturian)

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Originally, Khachatrian composed the Masquerade as incidental music for a play of the same name by Mikhail Lermontov that premiered at the Vakhtangov Theatre in Moscow in 1941.  Unfortunately, Masquerade would be the last production staged at the theater since the German invasion of the USSR cut the run of the production short. However, the five movements of incidental music that Khachaturian composed have lived on as a suite. His Nocturne, the second movement, is an incredibly colorful depiction of night.

Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (Claudio Monteverdi)

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Though night music occasionally figures into Monteverdi’s music, one of the most mystical pieces he composed set during the night is the dramatic cantata Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (The battle of Tancredi and Clorinda). The scene is taken from Torquato Tasso’s epic poem Jerusalem Delivered, set during the crusades. In Il combattimento, Tancredi, the leader of the Christian army, encounters Clordina, a beautiful Saracen warrior, in the middle of the night. Though in love with Clorinda, Tancredi does not recognize Clordina because she is clad in armor and because her identity is obscured by the night. The two challenge each other to battle, and ultimately, Clorinda is mortally wounded.

Though called a “madrigal” (it appears in his eighth book of published madrigals), the piece is extremely dramatic. The primary singer in the piece is not Clorinda or Tancredi, but an unnamed speaker who narrates the action. This would enable performers to enact the battle that the narrator describes, being fully engaged in combat without needing to simultaneously sing. Still, Clorinda has a touching solo at the end when her soul escapes. The string accompaniment to the music was revolutionary in its use of pizzicato and tremolo – some of the earliest appearances in notated music of either technique.

Symphony No. 7  (Gustav Mahler)

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The opening theme of this symphony came to Mahler when he was canoeing with his wife on the lake near his summer home, in Meiernigg. But this symphony isn’t exactly the soundtrack to a romantic outing. In fact, it is one of Mahler’s most brooding, grotesque, and puzzling symphonies, and it was not well received during its 1907 premiere. The second and fourth of the symphony’s five movements are entitled Nachtmusik, bridged by a spooky third-movement scherzo. He based the first Nachtmusik movement on Rembrandt’s 1642 painting “The Night Watch.”

Night on Bald Mountain (Modest Mussorgsky)

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Mussorgsky’s music from Night on Bald Mountain existed in many incarnations during the composer’s life. Mussorgsky knew that the piece had musical merit, but its clumsy orchestration prevented it from gaining popularity. After Mussorgsky’s premature death from alcoholism, Night on Bald Mountain was given second life in an 1886 arrangement by Mussorgsky’s friend and colleague Rimsky-Korsakov. This arrangement is performed far more often today in concert, and a subsequent arrangement by Leopold Stokowski also became popular through the 1940 Disney film Fantasia.

La noche de los Mayas (Silvestre Revueltas)

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A violinist and conductor as well as a composer, Revueltas was a major figure in Mexican music in the early twentieth century. He once even added “actor” to his list of accomplishments, making a cameo appearance in a 1935 film as a piano player that gets caught in the middle of a shootout. La noche de los Mayas is also the fruit of his relationship with the movies: Revueltas composed the music for a 1939 film of the same name. His score has proved more enduring than the movie, and as more focus continues to be shed on Revueltas’ work, the piece has been performed more and more frequently.

Tonight as you stare up at the eclipse, what music will you be listening to? Will you play any of the pieces we mentioned above, or are there other nocturnes, serenades, and moon music that you’ll be playing instead? Tell us your favorite moon music in the comments below.

Video: Learn to Breakdance to Bach in 90 Seconds

Yamine Manaa aka Spider and Yui Kawaguchi pose for a portrait at the Red Bull Flying Bach in Torino, Italy, on Oct 05th, 2012

Yamine Manaa aka Spider and Yui Kawaguchi pose for a portrait at the Red Bull Flying Bach in Torino, Italy, on Oct 05th, 2012

Yamine Manaa aka Spider and Yui Kawaguchi pose for a portrait at the Red Bull Flying Bach in Torino, Italy, on Oct 05th, 2012

Yamine Manaa aka Spider and Yui Kawaguchi pose for a portrait at the Red Bull Flying Bach in Torino, Italy, on Oct 05th, 2012

B-boys – or breakdancers – don’t usually dance in a theater. You’re more likely to find them on the sidewalk, in the alley, or dancing at a club. B-boys dance with fast, fluid footwork, gymnastic twists and turns, and sudden freezing in positions that look like they belong on a yoga mat.

The Flying Steps won the Battle of the Year competition in 2000, regarded by many to be the be-all, end-all competition in the b-boy community. The company has a few other international titles under their belt after 20 years of performing around the world.

But Vartan Bassil, artistic director and choreographer of the Flying Steps, and his colleagues were looking to take their craft to a new level. They had the idea to set their moves to a wholly unexpected soundtrack, the first twelve preludes and fugues from Book I of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. The result? Flying Bach.

I learned to b-boy from Vartan and the other dancers of the Flying steps. After busting a few moves and breaking a sweat, I talked to Vartan about how Flying Bach came about.

The project presented some challenges at first. “The difficult thing was to listen to the music, to understand it,” Bassil said. “Sometimes, we’re searching for a beat or a rhythm, something that we can work with, and sometimes it was really easy and you find it straight away, and sometimes it was really hard.”

That’s when the Bassil brought in Christoph Hagel to be their music director, allowing him and the dancers to focus on the choreography.

But in order to make Bach’s music work for b-boys, they needed to add a twist. In Flying Bach, you’ll hear the music of Bach like never before. Hagel has added pre-recorded electronic beats that blend with live performances on the keyboard.

Curious about how the Flying Steps b-boys to Bach? In the video below, you too can learn how to breakdance – in 90 seconds!

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While these fluid moves might seem improvised, don’t be fooled. “Everything is completely choreographed,” Bassil explained. “You really have to catch the music and the harmonies. Sometimes we dance along to each of the voices [in the fugues].”

But the Flying Steps don’t just b-boy in Flying Bach. “It was important for us not just to do breakdance but to bring in hip-hop, house, locking and popping so that people understand that breakdance isn’t just something people do on the floor, it’s an artform.”

Because breakdancing is so athletic, b-boys usually only perform for a few minutes. But in Flying Bach, the dancers have no time to rest, dancing in intervals of 15 minutes or more throughout the 70 minute performance.

As you can see from the pictures of me b-boying with Uwe Donaubauer – aka “BBoy Real” – it’s very easy to work up a sweat!

To learn more about the Flying Steps, visit their website.

More Than Mariachi: Ballet Folklórico Celebrates Mexico’s Diverse Culture



The Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández, a national treasure of Mexico, comes to Chicago for select performances this weekend at the Auditorium Theatre. I spoke to Salvador Lopez, the Ballet’s director and the grandson of the company’s founder Amalia Hernández, by phone from Mexico to learn more about the company and the program.


Can you describe what kinds of music we’ll hear?

We have done a lot of new arrangements for this current production. When the company first began, we arranged music found originally in small towns throughout Mexico. But in our new arrangements, we have included different instruments, or arranged the music so that is a bit more – let’s say – lively. It’s the same music presented in a more spectacular way.

We want to present a variety of different music to give different taste of Mexico.The mariachi everyone knows very well. But in our program we include music from the Coast of Mexico, music from Central Mexico, and even pre-Columbian music using pre-Columbian drums and woodwinds.

Working on the music has been very interesting for me because I took over the company in 2000 and since then I have been trying to do things so the company shows we are entering a new age. And I think we have succeeded. If you have seen the company ten years ago and now you go to the theater today, you will see a different company- a stronger company. The dancers are better prepared. As I said the music is different from the way we played a few years ago.

So how would you describe the differences between the music from the coastal regions and Central Mexico that you incorporate into this production?

In the various regions of Mexico there’s a lot of contrast, not only in dance but in music. Let’s say in the Coast of Mexico the influence of Afro-Latina influences and also the Spanish influences. So you see, in the Gulf Coast of Mexico we use the harp, la vihuela, a small guitar. So there are instruments from Spain, but there’s also an influence from Caribbean music.

In Central Mexico, we dance to a lot of indigenous music – mixture of pre-Columbian music and European music. Dances like Matachines, the first number, it’s a war dance so there’s a lot of indigenous drums and steps. They dance to the spirits of war. They dance to the earth,  showing us that they are warriors and that they respect very much the earth. In Mexico we use 25 drums for this piece. It’s not possible in the United States because we don’t have enough people. But we use drummers, a lot of drummers, around stage.

It’s so impressive.  It’s a very physical from the beginning to the end. It reflects the fighting spirit of the Mexican Indian dance. The costumes are made of feathers, bird feathers, originally that are green like trees. It’s a very interesting dance.

In the second part we open with the Danza de Los Quetzales and it’s a bird in Central Mexico. The music includes small drums and flute. The drums are very small drums that are called tijuan – an indigenous name. The flutes are made of leather and wood.

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Many of the pieces on the program are very theatrical, it seems!

Life Like a Game describes the Mexican way of life during the fiesta, during celebration. That is a very theatrical piece. It includes demons, the angel, the lover, the husbands, the dead. And it’s like a small piece of theater with Mexican music, different kinds of Mexican music. It’s a very theatrical piece that reminds you the way the Mexican lives during the fiesta in a small town.

The program seems to reflect Mexico’s diverse and rich history. What do you hope people will learn about Mexican culture from this performance?

I think that a lot of people that are from the United States and have limited exposure to certain kinds of Mexican culture and only think of Mexico’s mariachi. They will be fascinated by the diversity of things that they’ll see on the program. You know, it really does present a lot of different dances and a lot of different music.

Ballet Folklórico is the best taste of Mexico because it presents the magic of our culture and the diversity of our culture. I think Amalia’s work was great, she was very talented, she was my role model, and she was so talented that still the company seems to be very fresh on stage. The company that has been around for sixty four years, and it is one of the best, best of its kind in the world. At least that’s what the president said!

It’s a very good way to learn about Mexican culture – everything from the diverse music to the colorful costumes represents the magic of Mexico.

How many costumes approximately would you say that there are in the whole show?

There are about 450 costumes with 17 changes for each dancer.

Wow, 17 changes for each dancer?!


That is incredible! 

In any dance number, they have a lot of quick changes. The dynamic of the program is impressive. The costumes are like food in Mexico – there is so much diversity. Our program shows the diversity of our culture through costume. The contrast of the colors that we use in Mexico is an important part of richness of the culture. That is one of the things that we want to reflect the most – the colors of the east coast, contrasts of the west coast, or the central part, or the pre-Hispanic cultures. Even with no sound you could see the performance and see it reflect how diverse Mexican culture is.

What are some of your favorite production elements in the show, or favorite numbers?

I could say Veracruz because that is like waves of the ocean. In the dancing you kind of see the ocean in terms of rhythm. Though I also enjoy the end because it’s a a huge carnival and everyone in the theater gets to be involved in this part of the program.

Why do you enjoy performing in Chicago?

Chicago is a place where there are a lot people from Mexico. Mexicans in Chicago know that the company is part of Mexico. We’re bringing a piece of Mexico to the United States. It’s also very interesting because there is a mixture in the audience of Anglos and Mexicans, in the same place, enjoying Mexican culture. And that’s our mission, to bring our culture to the world.

Being a cultural ambassador there’s a great deal of responsibility and you have an even more special responsibility because your grandmother is the founder of the company.

The company started with eight people and now we are six hundred people in the company including students, teachers, and 2 professional companies. About 45 million people have seen the company around the world!

The responsibility to represent Mexico is huge because we show our culture around the world. You have to bring a company that not only shows our culture but shows that we are competitive. We are a fresh company and we have to be.

I’ll take the risk and say that this is our time. As far as folk dance, we are one of the best companies in the world. That means a lot of discipline that means a lot of hard work, a lot of creative work. It’s not easy to work as artists, you know, but also, it’s not easy to work knowing you have a responsibility to your country.

The company is a Mexican treasure. It’s not easy for anyone to be part of the company and for me it’s huge to know that I have to think about what’s going on with the company in the next ten years. It’s a lot of hard work.


To learn more about Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández, visit the company’s website.



Quiz – What Mozart Opera Are You?


Video: Justice Ginsburg on the Death Penalty and Opera



What does opera have to do with the death penalty? Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, came to WFMT, Chicago’s fine arts and classical radio station, to explain.

Ginsburg shared her lifelong passion for opera as a guest host on WFMT’s Middays with Lisa Flynn and Impromptu Monday, September 22, 2015. The Justice has been fascinated by opera since she was eleven years old, as she explained to Flynn: “I had never experienced anything like that before. The drama…the music.”

After her first hour as guest host, Ginsburg joined Flynn in front of a live audience in WFMT’s Levin Performance Studio to present “Opera and the Law.” In this special Impromptu broadcast, the Justice explored a range of legal themes from debates over the death penalty to literal vs. purposive reading of the law.

Ginsburg has done similar presentations for the American Bar Association (ABA) and at the 2015 Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York. For Ginsbug’s “Opera and the Law” program at WFMT, artists from Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center performed excerpts from a wide range of works.

Throughout the hour, Ginsburg related the musical examples to controversial issues that have faced the Supreme Court in recent years. For example, she discussed the Supreme Court’s decision during the 2014-15 term to uphold lethal injection as a permissible means of carrying out executions before a live excerpt from Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking.

The Supreme Court’s decision also brought what Ginsburg said was, “a more basic question: whether the death penalty, whatever the means employed, is itself unconstitutional.” Watch the Justice’s full discussion of opera and the death penalty in the video below.

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The topic of opera and the law isn’t devoid of humor, however. Justice Ginsburg enjoys a good satire and said “no team rivals Gilbert and Sullivan in treating law and lawyers.” Watch the video below to find out why Ginsburg compares The Pirates of Penzance to the Supreme Court’s most recent term.

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Another curious operatic satire of the law puts Ginsburg center stage. Derrick Wang’s new opera Scalia/Ginsburg, an opera based on Ginsburg’s friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, premiered in July 2015. One duet, “We are Different, We are One,” portrays Scalia and Justice as people who differ on issues of “major import, but [are] one in our reverence for the institution we serve,” the Justice said at WFMT.

She continued, “We genuinely respect and even like each other. Collegiately of that sort is what makes it possible for the Court to do the ever challenging work the Constitution and Congress assign to us without the animosity that currently mars the operations of the political branches of our government.”

Despite her love of the opera, she critiqued the role of women in some works. “Opera presents certain difficulties for a feminist,” she said, “because most of the women, the heroines, are dying of consumption, or tortured to death, like little Liù in Turandot.”

But who defies this archetype? Watch the video to learn which Puccini heroine is Ginsburg’s favorite.

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To hear the full “Opera and the Law” Impromptu with Justice Ginsburg, visit the Impromptu website.

Opera Lover Justice Ginsburg Visits WFMT in Chicago


In the “Seguidilla” from Bizet’s Carmen, the title character convinces her captor, Don José, to set her free. Most in the audience are swept up in Carmen’s siren song. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg, opera lover and Associate Supreme Court Justice of the United States, hears this scene as “opera’s most famous plea bargain.”

On Monday, September 21, 2015, Justice Ginsburg visited WFMT, Chicago’s fine arts and classical radio station, to share her love of classical music and to explore the relationship between her two greatest passions: opera and the law.

Though Ginsburg’s life’s work is to serve on the highest court in the land, today she spun some of her favorite classical tunes as a guest host on WFMT’s Middays with Lisa Flynn.

Ginsburg stuck around for a special concert and conversation on the show, Impromptu, to explore “Opera and the Law.” While lawyers and judges typically play minor characters in operas, Justice Ginsburg noted that the law itself plays a major role in many opera plots.

As members of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center performed live in the Studio, the Justice pointed out legal themes in Wagner’s Das Rheingold, Britten’s Billy Budd, and Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. Because W.S. Gilbert was a barrister before he turned to operetta, Ginsburg had to include at least one parody of the law from a work by Gilbert and Sullivan.

As the hour came to a close, Host Lisa Flynn asked the Justice to name 5 operas she wants everyone to know. Watch the video to reveal her selections.

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It turns out that Ginsburg is not only an opera fan, but she is a character in a new opera, Scalia/Ginsburg, a comic one act with words and music by Derrick Wang that had its world premiere in July 2015. Though Scalia and Ginsburg often have different interpretations of the law, they have one thing in common…their love of opera.

As much as the Justice adores bel canto, she prefers to use her voice to give opinions on the law of the land. But, she admits that she loves to sing in the shower. Her favorite role to perform? Santuzza from Pietro Mascagni’s one-act opera Cavalleria rusticana.


Historic CSO Broadcast Live from Millennium Park

9/19/10 6:07:38 PM  Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Music Director Riccardo Muti at the Concert for Chicago in Millennium Park in Chicago, IL. ©Todd Rosenberg Photography

WFMT is proud to present the first live broadcast of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing in its hometown in more than a decade beginning at 6:25 pm, CDT on Friday, September 18, 2015. The broadcast features the CSO’s sixth annual Concert for Chicago in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. This year’s concert is part of the festivities celebrating the beginning of the CSO’s 125th anniversary season.

Before the beginning of Riccardo Muti’s first season as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he conducted a free “Concert for Chicago” in Millennium Park in September 2010. The people of Chicago responded by turning out in spades. An estimated 25,000 people attended – so many that some had to be turned away!

To capture the excitement of tonight’s broadcast, we’ll be providing live updates throughout the day. If you can’t make tonight’s concert, featuring Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, be sure to tune in to our live broadcast. And check online to see the excitement build in Millennium Park.

2:00 PM


The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has just finished its rehearsals, which several people stopped by to enjoy despite some light drizzle. Eager CSO fans brought their umbrellas to hear the musicians rehearse Beethoven and Mahler before tonight’s concert. Some musician linger even though rehearsal is done to visit with each other, or to practice a bit more by themselves before taking a break.

3:00 PM


All of the musicians have safely put away their instruments and are taking a break before tonight’s concert, though there are a few music lovers waiting in the audience to stake out the perfect spot for tonight’s concert! The light rain has finally let up and smells fresh on the Great Lawn. The clouds are beginning to dissipate, and minute by minute the sky is becoming more and more clear. There’s a quiet stillness in the air. Soon, thousands will flood Millennium Park to get their fill of free, live music before summer turns to fall.

4:00 pm


The CSO’s Civic Orchestra Brass Ensemble is playing music from the 1890s by Cloud Gate, one of the most iconic sites in the city of Chicago. Cloud Gate is especially popular today because of the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final taking place in downtown Chicago. There are lots of athletes who seem glad to relax with some free, live music in Millennium Park.


5:00 pm


Just as the Civic Orchestra Brass Ensemble was winding down, the seating to the Pritzker Pavilion opened to the public. People were lining up to grab seats as early as 4:15 pm for the 6:30 pm concert. But, when the seating opened at 5:00 pm, the rain started. Audience members filed into to seats with raincoats and umbrellas determined to kick off the CSO’s 125th anniversary season.

6:00 pm


Things are getting wet outside, but WFMT Host and Chief Announcer Peter Van de Graaff is preparing for our broadcast of the CSO’s Concert for Chicago. Come rain or shine, the show must go on! The Pavilion is filling up with CSO fans who are happy to get a little wet to hear some great live music.



To learn more about the CSO, visit the CSO’s website.

To learn more about Riccardo Muti, visit his website.

10 Operas About Poisonous and Medicinal Plants

The Titan Arum plant (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the corpse flower or stinky plant, is seen in full bloom at the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory July 22, 2013 in Washington, DC.  AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER        (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

The Titan Arum plant (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the corpse flower or stinky plant, is seen in full bloom at the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory July 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

The Titan Arum plant (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the corpse flower or stinky plant, is seen in full bloom at the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory July 22, 2013 in Washington, DC.  AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER        (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

The Titan Arum plant (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the corpse flower or stinky plant, is seen in full bloom at the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory July 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

As everyone is poised for the corpse plant at the Chicago Botanic Garden to bloom, why not enjoy some music about poisonous and medicinal plants? Operas would be a lot less interesting if poison didn’t seep its way into their plots. Check out this list of 10 operas about poisonous and medicinal plants, taken largely from the research of João Paulo André at the Department of Chemistry at the University do Minho in Braga, Portugal. For more information about these works, be sure to read his paper “Opera and Poison – A Secret and Enjoyable Approach to Teaching and Learning Chemistry.”

1. Der Apotheker (Haydn)

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In the aria “Per quel che ha mal di stomaco,” one character in Haydn’s opera about an apothecary describes the virtues of rhubarb and manna for the digestive system.

2. Il Campanello (Donizetti)

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In the “prescription duet” in Donizetti’s opera centered around a wealthy pharmacist, two characters mention several poisonous and medicinal plants and chemicals, including Antimony chloride, mercury sulfide, sulfur, manna, and castor oil.

3. Suor Angelica (Puccini)

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In “Amici fiori,” Suor Angelica makes a poisonous drink with oleander, cherry laurel, hemlock, and belladonna.

4. Tristan und Isolde (Wagner)

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Nightshade is a plant central to the plot of Tristan und Isolde, one of the most famous operas involving poison.

5. Hamlet (Thomas)

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Though Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most commonly revived plays today, it is less commonly known in its operatic adaptation by Ambroise Thomas. Hamlet contains several mentions of poison, including a drink prepared with henbane.

6. Romeo and Juliet (Gounod)

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The star-crossed lovers of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, adapted for the operatic stage by Gounod, rely on poison in order to trick their families. Juliet’s “poison aria” is one of the most famous excerpt’s from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet.

7. Lakmé (Delibes)

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Everyone knows the “Flower Duet” from Delibes’s opera Lakmé. But, did you know that flowers are also the cause of Lakmé’s death? She kills herself by ingesting the poisonous datura plant.

8. L’Africaine (Meyerbeer)

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In this French grand opera, the Indian slave Selika commits suicide because her love for the Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama is unrequited. She dies by inhaling the poisonous vapors of the manchineel tree.

9. Il Guarany (Gomes)

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Apparently, operas involving European imperialism are ripe for poisonings! In this opera, some characters are killed with poison arrows when the Portuguese, Spanish, and two Indian tribes encounter each other.

10. La hija de Rappaccini (Catán)

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This Spanish language opera, based upon the short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is about a diabolical botanist who traps his own daughter in his garden, where he slowly poisons her!

Tell us your favorite operas about poisonous and medicinal plants in the comments below!