Happy Father’s Day! Fathers are those we turn to in moments of need, who set great examples by which we can live by and, the best, seek out ways to enrich our lives every day.
Opera has quite the list of famous fathers, and unlike the mothers, who are often portrayed negatively, fathers come in all shapes and sizes. So today we will explore the most famous fathers in opera, regardless of whether they are the greatest or worst examples.
So let’s just say this upfront, Verdi has a ton of father figures and this list will primarily feature many from the great composer’s output (and we will also overlook quite a few on this list so that it doesn’t only become a Verdi-fest. But it is impossible to ignore his most famed father figures as the composer had such an intricate understanding of those father-child dynamics in a way few others do, despite not being able to fully realize that role in his life.
Rigoletto is a rather complex figure. He adores his beloved Gilda and protects her from the society around her. But this obviously hinders her development and even leaves her more vulnerable to external forces. The simple fact that she knew nothing about her mother at the moment of the opera tells us a lot about how much Rigoletto hides from her.
He loses his daughter and then goes about looking for her, his life broken until he finds her. And then from there we see the leader do all in his power to make her happy. Verdi gives us one of the most glorious moments of father-child bliss with their gorgeous recognition duet and his blessing of her marriage at the end of the opera is also quite stirring.
Miller is not quite at the center of the story in the way other parents are, and in many ways, his daughter drives their relationship quite a bit, but their interactions, particularly that final act duet, are filled with a tenderness that emphasizes why the heroine will do anything for her father.
No beating around the bush here. Of all of Verdi’s father figures, the King in “Don Carlo” is by far the worst. He hates his son and all of his actions are in some way aimed at stifling him. He even considers murdering him, his only remorse is figuring out whether he would be acting against God or not.
The final Verdi father on this list, Germont’s actions are done with his children’s well-being in mind. His entire encounter with Violetta revolves around one thing – seeing his daughter happily married and ensuring that his son avoids a life of debauchery and gossip. His most famous musical passages, whether it be “Pura si come un angelo” or “Di provenza il mar,” revolve around his love for his kids.
But we also see him as a father willing to call out his child on his mistakes and his famous moment that launches the concertato is undeniably one example of a man who can’t stand to see his own child behave with immaturity in public.
Perhaps the most complex of all fathers in opera, the mythological hero is not only a bountiful patriarch, his off-spring in the Ring Cycle close to a dozen, but he is full of ambivalence. He loves his Valkyries but has a preference for Brünhilde. He loves Siegmund but aims to kill him. He has no real interest in Sieglinde. He attacks Brünhilde for her betrayal but then opts for protecting her as he attaches her to a mountain and puts her to “eternal” rest. And yet we feel for this being because we see him as a flawed and even failed father figure, one who wants to give his offspring free will but also control them all the same.
He’s arguably the worst father in all of opera. He’s so horrid that his own son writhes in disgust at the simple thought of seeing him in his own dreams. Moreover, his own son is a horrific villain that winds up causing great pain.
Puccini didn’t really delve into parental relationships much but Schicchi is his most famous and one of opera’s most preponderant. Here we see a man who basically puts his own interest at the forefront, but his daughter’s before his own.
Another Puccini father, this one of the absent variety. We see Cio-Cio San suffer for hours while the father of her son, a missing figure and essentially a McGuffin for most of the opera simply leaves his child to his own devices. Of course, Pinkerton has no idea of his fatherhood, but his presence, or lack thereof, is a major part of “Madama Butterfly.”
Another father whose presence (or lack thereof) looms large throughout the opera, the Commendatore sets the entire plot of the opera in motion. We don’t really get much of his dynamics with Donna Anna, but from her grief, we can get the sense that there was deep devotion, if not affection, from the young lady to her father.
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