Top 10 Best Operas of All Time

Operas are one of the most magnificent forms of art that humanity has ever created. From the breathtaking arias to the intricate orchestration, operas have the power to move you in ways that few other art forms can.

But what makes an opera truly great? Is it the power of the story, the brilliance of the music, or the skill of the performers? The answer, of course, is all of the above. The best operas combine compelling narratives with masterful compositions and outstanding performances to create an experience that is truly unforgettable.

From the epic tales of love and tragedy to the fantastical worlds of gods and monsters, the operas on this list cover a wide range of subjects and styles. Some are beloved classics that have been performed for centuries, while others are more recent works that are already making their mark on the genre. But all of them share one thing in common: they are all truly great operas that deserve a place at the top of any list.
The Top Ten
1 Carmen Set in sunny Spain, this sultry opera by Georges Bizet revolves around Carmen, a passionate and free-spirited woman who gets involved with a naive soldier named Don José. Love, betrayal, and tragedy unfold, as Don José is torn between his duty and his obsession with Carmen. Known for its catchy tunes like "Habanera" and "Toreador Song," this opera will have you humming along in no time.
2 La Boheme Set in 19th-century Paris, this heartwarming opera by Giacomo Puccini follows the lives of four bohemian friends: a poet, a painter, a musician, and a philosopher. Amidst the backdrop of a chilly Christmas Eve, love blossoms between the poet Rodolfo and the seamstress Mimi. Le Bohème's beautiful arias and duets tug at the heartstrings, as the characters navigate love, loss, and the struggles of life.

Hard to argue with La Bohème! Heh...

3 The Magic Flute A whimsical opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Magic Flute tells the tale of Prince Tamino, who is sent on a mission to rescue Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night, from the mysterious Sarastro. Accompanied by the bird-catcher Papageno, Tamino encounters magical creatures and experiences a journey of self-discovery, love, and enlightenment. Filled with enchanting music and delightful characters, this opera is a fantastic introduction to the world of opera.

I love all of these operas and many more. The amazing Verdi and Puccini operas (all of them are incredible), the tunes of Wagner that almost pull you apart, and Beethoven's Fidelio.

But in the end, I couldn't imagine having to go through life knowing I could never hear the music of Mozart again. In particular, The Magic Flute swings it for me. Just listen to the Priest's March or the arias with the three boys, and you'll see what I mean.

Between the overture, Sull'aria, Non più andrai, and all of the other incredible tunes, the music is brilliant through and through. The story is very funny, and Mozart does an incredible job with the dramatization of everything. His use of recitative throughout is nice.

4 Don Giovanni Another brilliant opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Don Giovanni tells the story of the legendary libertine and seducer. With a mix of comedy, drama, and supernatural elements, this opera offers a moral tale with unforgettable music. As Don Giovanni's escapades catch up to him, his fate is sealed in a thrilling finale.

Any high-class musician would put Don Giovanni in the top three without a doubt. For me, it is by far the best opera ever composed.

In my humble opinion, this is the most impressive opera ever written. The music flows magically from one passage to another, flawlessly. Mozart even had time to include music from the competing operas of the time, "Una cosa rara" and "Fra i due litiganti," in the scene "Già la mensa è preparata."

Mozart, in my humble opinion, plays in a superior league - well above other opera composers.

5 Tristan und Isolde A captivating opera by Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde tells the tragic love story of the title characters. Set in the medieval world of knights and nobility, the opera explores the depths of human desire and the transformative power of love. With its lush and innovative harmonies, Tristan und Isolde is a mesmerizing journey into the realm of the romantic.

Although not my favorite Wagner opera, the musical language changed classical music forever. Never had tonality been so stretched before, and music would never be quite the same again.

6 Rigoletto Composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Rigoletto is a dark and dramatic tale of love, betrayal, and vengeance. Centered around the tragic court jester Rigoletto, the opera delves into his complex relationship with his daughter Gilda and the licentious Duke of Mantua. Featuring iconic arias like "La donna è mobile," Rigoletto showcases the best of Italian opera.

Wonderful music, great characters, and the ultimate story of revenge and its consequences.

7 La Traviata Another masterpiece by Giuseppe Verdi, La Traviata tells the heart-wrenching story of Violetta, a Parisian courtesan who falls in love with the young nobleman Alfredo. As they navigate societal expectations and personal sacrifices, Verdi's beautiful music captures the essence of love, passion, and tragedy. Featuring famous arias like "Sempre libera" and "Addio del passato," La Traviata is a must-see opera.
8 The Marriage of Figaro A sparkling comic opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro revolves around the wedding of Figaro, a servant, and his beloved Susanna. The opera is filled with hilarious misunderstandings, disguises, and love triangles, as the characters navigate their way through the chaos. With its witty plot and charming music, The Marriage of Figaro is a delightful example of Mozart's genius.

Mozart's most soft and sweet works and one of the best operas ever written.

Perfection. From the overture to the final notes.

The finale does something to me...

9 The Barber of Seville Composed by Gioachino Rossini, The Barber of Seville is a lively and entertaining opera that follows the charming barber Figaro as he assists the love-struck Count Almaviva in winning the heart of the beautiful Rosina. Bursting with humor, catchy melodies, and memorable characters, this opera is a favorite among audiences and a great introduction to the world of opera.
10 Turandot Another masterpiece by Giacomo Puccini, Turandot is a gripping opera set in ancient China. The story revolves around the cold-hearted Princess Turandot, who challenges her suitors to solve three riddles for her hand in marriage. The stakes are high, as failure means death. The opera features one of the most famous arias, "Nessun Dorma," and explores themes of love, sacrifice, and redemption.

Turandot has the most beautiful arias and ensembles. Turandot herself only has one big aria, but it is connected to one of the most difficult scenes for a high dramatic soprano, with several high Cs. The tenor Calaf has two great arias, including "Nessun Dorma," the most famous operatic aria in the world. Liu has two gorgeous arias as well.

Adding to all that, there are super opulent sets since it was for the Emperor of China. The best DVD version of Turandot features Domingo, Marton, and Mitchell (who stole the show as Liu). The best recording of Turandot on CD is the one with Joan Sutherland as Turandot, Luciano Pavarotti as Prince Calaf, and Montserrat Caballé as Liu. Now that's a cast!

The Contenders
11 Der Ring des Nibelungen A monumental four-opera cycle by Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) is a masterpiece of German Romantic opera. Based on Norse mythology, the cycle tells the epic tale of gods, heroes, and mythical creatures in their quest for a powerful ring. Featuring innovative music and complex characters, this opera cycle is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any opera lover.
12 Lucia di Lammermoor A dramatic and emotional opera by Gaetano Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor tells the tragic tale of a young Scottish woman, Lucia, who is forced into an unwanted marriage by her family. As her love for Edgardo, her family's enemy, drives her to madness, Lucia delivers one of opera's most famous mad scenes. The opera's beautiful bel canto style showcases the power and emotion of the human voice.

Lucia is the only opera that can compete with the Mozart and Da Ponte masterpieces. It's just so difficult for singers that it's somewhat rarely performed, and people don't know it that well.

It's full of incredible arias, duets, and choir ensembles. Lucia is much more than just the Mad Scene and sextet - you'll see.

13 Tosca A thrilling opera by Giacomo Puccini, Tosca is set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Rome. The story follows the passionate singer Floria Tosca, her lover, the artist Mario Cavaradossi, and the ruthless police chief Scarpia. Love, jealousy, and sacrifice take center stage in this gripping tale, accompanied by Puccini's powerful and emotive music.

The first opera I heard - just overwhelming. All-time favorite.

14 Aida An epic opera by Giuseppe Verdi, Aida is set in ancient Egypt and tells the tale of a love triangle between the Ethiopian princess Aida, the Egyptian general Radamès, and the Pharaoh's daughter Amneris. Filled with grand choruses, touching arias, and lavish sets, Aida explores themes of love, loyalty, and betrayal in a spectacular production that will transport you to another time and place.

The intimate scenes in Act III are fabulous masterpieces. The atmospheric playing of the woodwinds in the romanza "Qui Radamès verrà..." and the incredible tension in the Aida-Amonasro confrontation make it one of the greatest duets in all opera!

15 Falstaff A lively and comedic opera by Giuseppe Verdi, Falstaff is based on Shakespeare's character Sir John Falstaff from the plays "Henry IV" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor." This delightful work follows the misadventures of the boisterous and larger-than-life Falstaff as he attempts to woo two married women simultaneously. With its witty humor and masterful music, Falstaff is a joy to watch from beginning to end.
16 William Tell A grand and heroic opera by Gioachino Rossini, William Tell is based on the legendary Swiss folk hero who fights for his people's freedom from Austrian rule. Known for its famous overture, which has become synonymous with the Lone Ranger, this opera showcases Rossini's mastery of melody and drama, making it a thrilling experience for any opera lover.
17 L'Elisir D'Amore A charming and light-hearted opera by Gaetano Donizetti, L'Elisir D'Amore tells the story of the lovestruck peasant Nemorino, who believes that a love potion will help him win the affections of the beautiful Adina. Filled with humor, unforgettable melodies, and heartfelt moments, this opera is a delightful showcase of the bel canto style.

Not a single boring moment, a joy from beginning to end!

18 Madame Butterfly A tragic and emotional opera by Giacomo Puccini, Madame Butterfly tells the story of the ill-fated love affair between the American naval officer Pinkerton and the Japanese geisha Cio-Cio San, also known as Butterfly. Set in Nagasaki, Japan, the opera explores themes of love, betrayal, and cultural differences, with Puccini's moving music capturing the depth of human emotion.
19 Dido and Aeneas An intimate and moving opera by Henry Purcell, Dido and Aeneas tells the tragic love story of the Queen of Carthage, Dido, and the Trojan hero Aeneas. Based on Virgil's epic poem, the opera explores themes of love, destiny, and sacrifice, with Purcell's evocative music beautifully capturing the emotions of the characters. The famous lament, "When I am laid in earth," is a highlight of this baroque gem.
20 Porgy and Bess A groundbreaking opera by George Gershwin, Porgy and Bess is set in the African-American community of Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina. The story follows the disabled beggar Porgy and his love for the troubled Bess. With its unique blend of jazz, folk, and classical music, this opera features unforgettable songs like "Summertime" and "It Ain't Necessarily So," and explores themes of love, community, and resilience.
21 Cosí Fan Tutte A witty and insightful opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Così Fan Tutte explores the complexities of love, fidelity, and human nature. The story follows two young soldiers who, under the guidance of a mischievous philosopher, decide to test the loyalty of their fiancées by disguising themselves and attempting to woo each other's beloved. Filled with sparkling arias and ensembles, this opera is a delightful blend of humor and wisdom.
22 Der Rosenkavalier A romantic and bittersweet opera by Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier is set in the elegance of 18th-century Vienna. The story revolves around the love triangle between the Marschallin, her young lover Octavian, and the beautiful Sophie. Filled with lush music, waltzes, and comic moments, Der Rosenkavalier is a poignant exploration of love, youth, and the passage of time.
23 Tristan and Isolde A captivating opera by Richard Wagner, Tristan and Isolde tells the tragic love story of the title characters. Set in the medieval world of knights and nobility, the opera explores the depths of human desire and the transformative power of love. With its lush and innovative harmonies, Tristan and Isolde is a mesmerizing journey into the realm of the romantic.
24 Siegfried The third opera in Richard Wagner's monumental four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, Siegfried tells the heroic tale of the young warrior Siegfried as he embarks on a quest for power and love. Filled with magical creatures, epic battles, and soaring music, Siegfried is an essential part of this groundbreaking opera cycle.
25 Don Quichotte A lyrical and heartwarming opera by Jules Massenet, Don Quichotte tells the story of the chivalrous and idealistic Don Quixote and his loyal squire, Sancho Panza. As they embark on a series of adventures in search of the beautiful Dulcinea, the opera captures the spirit of the classic novel by Cervantes with its romantic music and poignant themes.
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