Sometimes you just need a good cry. Whether it’s the stress of everyday life, geopolitical conflict, health crises, or interpersonal strife, pent up human emotion can wear on us. When real life seems, well, too real, or even larger than life, where else better to turn to than opera? I think one of the elements of this art form I appreciate most is its inherent ability to open an empathetic channel between the audience, performer, and material. It’s this that makes us feel and connect with characters we might or might not have much in common with. Opera offers the unique opportunity to slow down a singular moment of human emotion, expand it, and reflect on it. What does each thought and expression mean to us? In a way, we project ourselves onto the characters and material. This is what “hurts” us, but also provides catharsis when we experience a particularly moving musical moment.
So, let this be your permission to experience some moments of release. It’s ok to be confused, conflicted, and upset. It’s ok to cry.
Vissi d’arte, Tosca, Puccini
The tragedy of this aria lies in confusion and grief that lead Tosca to ask the question we so often ask ourselves when terrible things happen. “Why?” Tosca has done her best to live her life honoring God and honoring her art. Now wrapped up in politics outside of her control, not only is her lover Cavaradossi imprisoned and tortured, but Tosca’s herself must decide whether to submit to his captor, Scarpia, in order to save him from execution. It’s an unfair and impossible choice - and one we know leads to drastic action.
Dido’s lament (When I Am Laid in Earth), Dido and Aeneas, Purcell
It would seem that many of us have little in common with Dido. After all, she’s a queen; wealthy, powerful, and burdened with the future of her people. But, after she reluctantly falls in love with Aeneas, we see she is not only a queen, but also human. And who wouldn’t fall in love with Aeneas? He’s handsome, a noble, and also invested in the welfare of his people. Aeneas promises the world to Dido, and all seems well. However, outside forces that take advantage of Aeneas’s sense of duty and honor drive him suddenly away from Carthage. It’s too much for Dido to bear. After she had just opened herself to love, the door snaps shut and even Aeneas’s apologies and willingness to shun the gods do not appease Dido. Her honor, and by proxy, her people have been betrayed.
Kuda, kuda, Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky
While I think that both Eugene Onegin and Lensky have a number of character flaws that lead to this aria, the sentiment of the piece remains intact. At its core, it’s a reflection of how one has lived their life, regret, nostalgia, and uncertainty of what legacy we leave after we are gone. I also think there is some sadness in that Lensky and Onegin feel that they mustgo through with the impending duel because neither one is strong enough in character to back down from a societally imposed machismo.
Addio, del passato, La Traviata, Verdi
This aria is especially moving when viewed through the lens of sacrifice. That is, after all, the dramatic crux of La Traviata. Violetta experiences true love and happiness, something that has not been easy for her to obtain. However, she is willing to forgo her own comfort for the perceived well-being of Alfredo and his family. Not only has she made this sacrifice, but through a horrible misunderstanding has also been publicly humiliated by Alfredo. Now alone, she is ailing emotionally from losing Alfredo and physically from illness. Here, we see a woman coming to terms with the end of her life who, even in her dying moments, thinks only of others and forgiveness. Again, we wonder why something so painful can happen to good people.
Senza mamma, Suor Angelica, Puccini
While some of the other arias focus on the tribulations of lives near their end, this aria focuses on one that had hardly begun before being cut short - that of Sister Angelica’s son, whom she was separated from before being sent to the convent by her family. The possibilities of a life unlived paired with Angelica’s pain of losing a child and being unable to have cared for a child she brought into the world is utterly heart-wrenching, especially considering she finds out years after the child has already died.
Please feel free to share arias that you feel connected to - either through catharsis or comfort. Wishing you peace in the coming days.