Happy Mother’s Day to all the great mothers that are reading this article.
The greatest of mothers are people that we can always count on when things get tough. When we need a shoulder to cry on, mom is the one who will always offer hers. When we have a small achievement, mom is the one ready to cry with joy. When we have a major accomplishment, mom makes sure everyone knows about it. When we simply need someone to be at ease with, to relax and enjoy, mom will always stop anything to provide that. She is the eternal rock of anyone’s life, the foundation that grows stronger as we do.
If you’ve watched a lot of opera you might argue at this point that opera offers us nothing like that. You might find fathers that exemplify those traits, but hardly any mother. Because the truth is, unfortunately, opera has more Azucenas and Klytemnestras and Kostelnickas and Medea’s, who murder their (or others’) offspring in pursuit of their personal needs, than they do women like the ones I described above.
But today we will highlight the cream of the crop. The operatic mothers that make us proud. Enjoy and then give your mother a big kiss and wish her a “Happy Mother’s Day.”
Cio-Cio San – “Madama Butterfly”
Let’s start off with the one you expected (because the picture gave it away). If there was ever a more exemplary mother in all of opera, it might be Cio-Cio San. While many like to complain about her loyalty to a traitorous man, this attitude is immediately softened when framed in the context of her motherhood. She sacrifices everything for her son. She clings to the promise of Pinkerton’s return simply because she doesn’t want her son to be a bastard. As long as she has that, then her child cannot become a societal outcast. And when she finally chooses to kill herself, it is knowing that she must let her son leave so that he may enjoy a better life where his honor will not be destroyed. We suffer with Cio-Cio San not only as a woman but as a mother looking out for her child’s best interests. And Puccini’s ability to show us her love for her son is endlessly moving.
Marcellina – “Le Nozze di Figaro”
In a weird role reversal, Marcellina goes from trying to marry her son to then becoming a strong and ardent accomplice for him. When her son implodes with jealousy she does her best to soothe him, even though their relationship as mother and son has just commenced in earnest. She then goes off to try and help fix the soured marriage between Figaro and Susanna.
The Mother – “Amahl and the Night Visitors”
Amahl’s Mother suffers for her disabled son and we even get an entire aria dedicated to her prayer that her child not become a beggar. She tries to steal gold, but she does it for her son’s sake but sees the error of her ways and returns the gold. Maybe she is misinformed in her actions, but they are always with the benefit of her son in mind.
Alice Ford – “Falstaff”
The Merry wife of Windsor is the main source of conflict for two men in this opera, but she is also the motor that resolves a major subplot in the Verdi masterwork. Seeing her daughter Nannetta sad at the prospect of losing her beloved Fenton, Alice concocts a plan to ensure that her daughter gets her heart’s desire instead of the arranged marriage her husband has in store. You have to give it up for any woman willing to cross her husband to favor her child.
Sieglinde – “Die Walküre”
We never get to experience Sieglinde as a mother, but we know of her stature as one. After the death of Siegmund, she knows her fate is a dreadful one and considers death. But upon realizing that she is pregnant she decides to take what may for his sake.
We never see Angelica as a mother, but like Sieglinde, we see her behavior in the name of her child. She suffers for his sake throughout this opera and upon hearing of his death, she too seeks to be united in death with him. She is so desperate for this that she commits suicide, only to realize she will be separated from him. Her prayer is met with redemption and she gets her chance to be with her child in death. Puccini connects us with her not as a nun but as a suffering mother.