Five Of Opera’s Most Transformational Friendships

By John Vandevert
Photo Credit: Karen Almond

When you think of friends in opera, who do you think of?

Perhaps your mind goes to the happiness shared between sisters in “Cosi Fan Tutte.” Or, more seriously, you think of the squabbles inherent in Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus.” Whatever it may be, you don’t have to look far to find more than meets the eye when it comes to the friends you make along the way.

Like lovers, opera friendships are often challenged in huge ways. To celebrate National Friends Day this year, let’s explore five of opera’s most enduring friendships to learn what it really means to be faithful, friendly, and dedicated to someone. From Wagner, to Puccini and Mozart we learn how friendships are never one thing but often many things all at once!

Tamino and Papageno

In one of opera’s greatest and most well-known works, this Masonic-laden opera is about overcoming obstacles and the realization of one’s true potential through the power of grit and love. Its premiere was at the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden in 1791 and continues to be one of opera’s all time favorites. Of course, I’m talking about W. A. Mozart’s last opera, “The Magic Flute.” It is a goldmine of double entendres, musical landscaping and inventive usages of an instrumental pallet, including the glockenspiel’s iconic tinselly solo.

But, all these elements aside, I will focus on the characters of Tamino and Papageno. Tamino is the adamant leader tasked with saving Pamina, daughter of “Astrifiammante” (Queen of the Night). Papageno is the excitable bird catcher who develops into a self-assured husband by the end. These two are linked from the opera’s very beginning and represent divergent ends of the human experience. For example, in one character there is a fearful and hesitant side. Whereas in the other character, there is a strong and courageous side. The opera shows how both sides are never antithetical to each other. They routinely cross when they need to, often during pivotal times in our lives. Each side goes on their own separate journey towards the fulfillment of their potential and become victorious in the end. 

Rodolpho and Marcello

This opera’s story is about the hardships faced by four friends and two love interests-turned-confidants. Giacomo Puccini’s immortal tragedy “La Boheme is a testament to the power of friendships and sacrifices. Puccini’s tale is based on Henri Murger’s 1851 short story collection “Scenes of Bohemian Life.” Rodolpho, a struggling poet, and Marcello, a painter, become deep friends through their mutual bonding over their complicated lovers, Mimi (whose real name is Lucia), and Musetta. At the beginning of Act three, we see Mimi and Marcello talk about Rodolpho’s anger with her. His jealousy then becomes his shame, as he is unable to help Mimi with her terminal case of tuberculosis.

In the end, the fated couple decide to stay together, thanks to the tactful influence of Marcello. Although, Marcello himself finds life incredibly challenging with Musetta. Unfortunately, Mimi dies. Both Marcello and Musetta help as best they can by selling earrings for medicine and a gift of a muff, bought with the money gained from Colline’s selling of his jacket. In Puccini’s unincluded Act three, Rodolpho’s jealousy is explained. Mimi was introduced to a viscount, thanks to Musetta. Ultimately, the bond between Marcello and Rodolpho heals the feelings of inadequacy and brings the lovers back together before the end.

King Marke and Tristan

This next opera is a vanguard in the world of musical modernity. “Tristan Und Isolde is a sublime celebration of the achievements that art, music, and creativity can provide the human experience. It represents those things which words cannot express. This opera is also an uncovered tribute to Wagner’s incorporation of Arthur Schopenhauer’s thesis of endless searching, dissatisfaction, and relentless pursuit of something that can never be attained. Through the literary concept of “Weltschmerz (pain of the word), Schopenhauer argues that life is nothing more than a cyclical process of desire, satisfaction, pain, and more desires. Art and contemplation remain the only solace from this.

Gottfried von Strassburg’s 12th-century romance, “Tristan and Iseult,” centers around the love, estrangement, and ultimate union of lovers Isolde and Tristan. A major plot point is King Marke of Cornwall who is set to marry Isolde. Furious over this, Isolde seeks to kill Tristan. But in a mix-up prompted by Brangäne, they end up falling in love. King Marke finds out, but seems to be more distraught that Tristan’s friend Melot easily betrayed them without thinking. By the end of Act three, King Marke is revealed to be one of the few who also loved Tristan, noting that he’d actually come to unite them in marriage.  

Susanna and Countess Rosina

Strong relationships require commitments towards keeping one another’s personal statements, plans, and secrets. Thus, there is no greater show of faithfulness that can be found in an opera than the partnership between Valet Figaro’s to-be-wife Susanna and frustrated Countess Rosina Almaviva, from W. A. Mozart’s “Le Nozze Di Figaro.” Based on the 1786 stage comedy by masterful playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, Mozart’s opera tells the story of two couples from two classes both under attack. The Count’s attempted droit du seigneur serves as a symbol of unearned privilege.

Susanna and the Countess share a particularly secretive moment in their duet, “Sull’aria,” where they sing about tricking the Count into falling back in love with the Countess. However, the friendship between the Countess and Susanna runs much deeper than earlier. In Act two, the Countess expresses sadness over the Count’s wandering eye. But, Susanna quickly comes to her aid and hatches a plan to get the Count to fall in love with the Countess. After finding out about Cherubino’s forced military service, a plan begins. By the end, the Count begs forgiveness from the Countess and happiness ensues. The wandering eye returns to its official place. These two express a friendship that goes beyond any rank.

Teresa and Amina

Vincenzo Bellini’s eighth opera, “La Sonnambula,” is regarded as an opera in which international stars like Maria “La Divina” Callas and Joan Sutherland made their undisputed mark upon the world. This opera is beloved by composers like Mikhail Glinka, and has been performed by opera greats such as Jenny “The Swedish Nightengale” Lind. This semi-serious opera alludes to being humorous, but is all-together serious with its moments of jealousy and devotion. In the opera, Amina, the adopted daughter, is set to be marry Elvino, a peasant.

However, it is revealed in Act two that Amina sleepwalks and has been mistakenly thought of as cheating on Elvino as a result. Teresa and Amina’s adopted mother announce that a supposed “ghost” has come to the town. Teresa quickly becomes one of the leading figures in helping her daughter stay safe and protected from threats. Only she believes in her daughter’s innocence when everyone else thinks of her as a treacherer. During Act two, both Teresa and Amina make their way to see Count Rodolfo in order to argue for their innocence once and for all. Amina’s virtue is revealed by the end when she is seen precariously walking over a high beam, and a marriage proposal quickly ensues between the newly enraptured lovers.


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