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My Favorite Opera Arias and Duets

Updated on July 12, 2010

Nessun Dorma - Puccini

This Italian opera, Turandot, was unfinished by Giacomo Puccini. He suffered from throat cancer and died from a heart attack before he could finish it. Franco Alfano, a friend of Puccini, completed the score, using Puccini's notes for the final duet.

The story is about Princess Turandot who lived in the city of Peking. She would be won by the suitor who could answer three riddles. If he failed, he would be executed.

When the opera begins, the Prince of Persia fails to answer the three riddles and is going to be executed. An old man, Timur, is knocked down in all the excitement and is rescued by his son, a young man, the Unknown Prince named Calef.

Calef falls madly in love with Turandot. He is warned not to try the three riddles, but he can not be persuaded.

He answers the riddles correctly and everyone is delighted except Turandot. She does not want to marry a foreigner but the Emperor answers that he made an oath and it can not be broken.

Calef says that if she can answer one riddle, his name, he will let her off the hook.

In act III of the opera, the herald states that no one must sleep that night before the name of the Unknown Prince is discovered or the penalty is death.

Calef sings his aria - Nessun Dorma - "No one must sleep." He is sure that he will be the one to reveal his name to Turandot and marry her.

After trying all kinds of torture and inducement to find out Calef's name, the guards can not reveal his name. Finally, Calef tells her his name and offers her his life. Turandot, through the process has fallen in love with Calef and finally speaks to the court and says she has learned the stranger's name and it is Love.


Bess, You Is My Woman Now - Gershwin

Although this is a duet, it is one of my favorites.

The best known song from this opera, Porgy and Bess is Summertime, also one of my  favorites, but Bess, You is My Woman Now is less known.

The music from Porgy and Bess is written by George Gershwin. The story is about a crippled, black man, Porgy, who lives in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina, the fictitious Catfish Row. He is in love with Bess, a women of questionable character who is hooked up with no-good abusive lover, Crown, and a drug dealer, Sportin' Life. Crown becomes wanted for murder and leaves. Porgy is the only person who will offer Bess a place to live. Listen to the music. It's beautiful!

Vesti La Giubba - Leoncavallo

This famous aria from the opera Pagliacci is sung after Canio, a clown in a traveling show, discovers his wife has been unfaithful to him. He must go onstage anyway, (The show must go on).  His heart is broken but he must be happy on the outside.

Here is an English translation of the lyrics:

Go on stage, while I’m nearly delirious?
I don’t know what I’m saying or what I’m doing!
And yet, chin up! I’ll try harder. bah, you think you’re a man?
You’re just a clown! on with the show, man,
And put on your white-face.
The people pay you and you must make them laugh.
And if harlequin should steal your columbine, laugh,
You’re pagliaccio, and the world will clap for you!
Turn into banter all your pain and sorrow,
And with your clowns’ face hide grief and distress...
Laugh loud, pagliaccio, forget all of your troubles,
Laugh off the pain that so empoisons your heart.

Un bel di vedremo - Puccini

This beautiful aria comes from the opera Madame Butterfly.

Madame Butterfly is the story of a beautiful young geisha in Nagasaki, Japan  who sacrifices her family by an arranged marriage to a US Naval officer, Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton. She gives up her religion and follows Christianity.

He goes back to the Navy but does not return for 3 years. He goes back to America and marries an American girl.

Butterfly has a son and hopes that one day her husband will come back to her. He does come back but with his American wife.

When Butterfly finally realizes the truth, she ultimately takes her own life for her American husband.

This beautiful aria, Un bel di vedremo, is sung when Lieutenant Pinkerton has been gone for 3 years and Butterfly is told that he will never come back. At first she is angry but then she sings how one day he will sail into the harbor, come up the hill and again meet his beloved wife.

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    • Smireles profile image

      Sandra Mireles 7 years ago from Texas

      Love this hub. Thank you for the story of Madame Butterfly!

    • judydianne profile image
      Author

      judydianne 7 years ago from Palm Harbor, FL

      You're welcome, Smireles. I will probably do a part 2 because there are too many arias and duets that I love.

    • The Steve profile image

      The Steve 7 years ago from Clearwater, Florida

      Beautiful choices! Vesti La Giubba is amazing and knowing the story behind it now makes it even better.

      "Laugh loud, pagliaccio, forget all of your troubles,

      Laugh off the pain that so empoisons your heart."

    • maven101 profile image

      maven101 7 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Wonderful and interesting Hub on my favorite pastime: listening to the great voices of opera...

      The powerful, yet touching, Nessun Dorma by Pavarotti is my favorite male aria...

      The song " I loves you, Porgy " ( don't ever leave me ) scratches at my heart...

      My favorite female aria is by Marilyn Horne and her heart wrenching performance of Camille Sainte-Saens' " Mon coeur s'ouve a ta voix " from Samson et Dalila...I hardly understand a word of the French, but the emotions stirred up by her powerful voice brings tears every time I hear it...

      Thank you for this enjoyable Hub...Larry

    • judydianne profile image
      Author

      judydianne 7 years ago from Palm Harbor, FL

      Steve, you are my soul mate of music!

      Larry, I love Marilyn Horne also. Another fantastic voice is Leontyne Price. Have you ever heard her sing, "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel? Beautiful!

      Thanks for the comments, all!

    • Ladybird33 profile image

      Ladybird33 7 years ago from Georgia USA

      Judydianne, this is a great article, I am a secret closet opera lover, thank you for sharing!

    • judydianne profile image
      Author

      judydianne 7 years ago from Palm Harbor, FL

      Ladybird33, you are welcome. I have only seen one opera in person, Carmen, but then I was hooked. Thank you for reading and listening to my hub!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Madame Butterfly's aria is one of my faves!!

    • judydianne profile image
      Author

      judydianne 6 years ago from Palm Harbor, FL

      It is a beautiful aria, Holle. Thanks for the post.

    • Athlyn Green profile image

      Athlyn Green 5 years ago from West Kootenays

      So nice to see a Hub on some of these beautiful and timeless arias.

    • judydianne profile image
      Author

      judydianne 5 years ago from Palm Harbor, FL

      Thank you so much, Athlyn. I miss Pavarotti, but I'm glad we can still hear his music.

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