We can look at Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger,” which premiered on June 21, 1868, and marvel at its glorious music. Or its fascinating Schopenhauerian philosophy.
Instead, let’s just look at the opera’s face value and marvel at the fact that this is an opera about singers. There are many operas laden with characters that sing within the context of the opera, but only a few have that status of being “master singers.” Here is a look at the famous “singing” characters in opera, starting off with Hans Sachs himself.
The opera has quite a number of singing characters, whether they be the Mastersingers themselves or Walther and the other apprentices, but Hans Sachs reigns supreme among them. He is the cleverest of singers and the one everyone turns to for advice on musical composition.
The iconic gypsy famously doesn’t sing a single “aria” in the opera as all of her famous solo numbers (the Habanera or Seguidilla, among other) are actually songs. Moreover, those songs are often portrayed in a context where she exerts complete control over a situation, by placing the spotlight firmly on herself. She is a confident performer in the deepest sense.
Another character that knows how to steal the spotlight is Musetta from “La Bohème.” While she only “sings” once in the entire opera, her famed waltz is a scene-stealing moment that amplifies her ability to not only put on a performance but a dominating one that can win back any heart she pleases.
Wagner’s other major opera that features a singing contest goes horribly wrong for the protagonist. While his opposition’s singing is more subdued and pure in style, Tannhäuser, who “sings” a few songs in the work gets by with a more sensual style that is considered overly edgy for his more conservative audience.
The Singer in “Der Rosenkavalier”
A literal singer, this character only appears for a few minutes in the first act to sing one of the most charming melodies in an opera laden with them.
Verdi’s troubadour only sings one “song” in the context of the opera, but the composer fills the role with one rapturous melody after another. From his single “song” “Deserto sul la terra,” we get a sense of Manrico’s passionate nature and yet his potency as a warrior.
We are told that Tosca is a diva and we actually get to “hear her” in action briefly at the start of the second act during an ensemble offstage. Puccini, of course, has Tosca dominate that section of the music and yet in this dramatic section, she is hurled into the background as the foreground action prepares to torture her.
We know we missed a ton… List your favorite “singing” characters in opera in the comments below!