To celebrate Valentine's Day, we gathered into a "Love Songs" playlist the most beautiful love stories of the classical repertoire... Tristan and Isolde, Dido and Aeneas, Romeo and Juliet... Rediscover these iconic couples in video!
Love in operatic works has been a key theme since the very beginning of the genre. Monteverdi's Orfeo, the first opera to survive until nowadays, recounts the story of a passionate love: to meet again with Euridice, the bold Orfeo crosses over the Styx and seduces with his singing the prince of the underworld. Two hundreds years later, Beethoven as well gives wings to his heroin Leonore in his single opera, Fidelio, in which Leonore, driven by love, takes the risk to sneak into a prison, dressed up like a man, to free her husband Florestan unjustly condemned to death.
Yet, love can also lead to the worst. It is the argument of Verdi's Otello, an opera drawing its inspiration from Shakespeare and Rossini, presenting Otello's crime of passion. Out of jealousy, the Moor of Venice murders his faithful wife Desdemona. It is also the argument of Massenet's Werther, an opera composed after Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, an epistolary novel announcing the Romanticism of the 19th century. First published in 1774, Goethe's literary work drove many youngsters to kill themselves, a phenomenon known as the "Werther Fever". Suicide is as well the unfortunate outcome of Puccini's Madama Butterfly.
It is Denis de Rougemont who first pointed out the long-lasting tradition of an "unfortunate yet mutual love" in the Western literary culture. The medieval legend of Tristan and Iseult, later on taken back by Wagner, is the archetypal example. Despite the mutual love of Tristan and Iseult, secured by the magic effect of a love potion, the lovers of Cornwall are condemned to a marginal and unfortunate life due to the social prohibition of their relationship. For the same reasons, the love stories of Gounod's Romeo and Juliet and Léon Minkus's La Bayadère show similar deadly outbursts of passion.
Fairy tales gave birth as well to love myths, as Tchaikovsky's ballets Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake can bear witness. Yet, if love has sometimes its share of bitterness, thankfully love can also lead to sheer happiness! For a joyful Valentine's Day, do watch again Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia with its exhilarating scenes, Mozart's Cosí Fan Tutte with its lighthearted plot, or Mozart's The Magic Flute in which Papageno eventually finds his Papagena!
Michel Plasson, Benoît Jacquot – Jonas Kaufmann (Werther), Sophie Koch (Charlotte)
Peter Schneider, Christoph Marthaler – Robert Dean Smith (Tristan), Robert Holl (King Marke) – Bayreuther Festspielhaus
Charles Mackerras, Nicolas Joel – Roberto Alagna (Romeo), Leontina Vaduva (Juliet), François Le Roux (Mercutio) – Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Tamara Rojo (Manon), Carlos Acosta (Des Grieux) – The Royal Ballet
Jesús López Cobos, Giancarlo del Monaco – Inva Mula (Mimi), Laura Giordano (Musetta) – Teatro Real Madrid
Agnès Letestu (Odette), José Martinez (Siegfried) – Corps de Ballet de l'Opéra national de Paris
Dennis Russell Davies, André Engel – Elena Tsallagova (The Vixen), Paul Gay (Harašta)
Christopher Hogwood, Wayne McGregor – Lucy Crowe (Belinda), Sarah Connolly (Dido) – Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Antonio Pappano, Nicholas Hytner – Rolando Villazón (Don Carlos), Robert Lloyd (Carlos V), Simon Keenlyside (Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa) – Royal Opera House,...
Alina Cojocaru (Princess Aurora), Federico Bonelli (Prince Florimund), Christopher Saunders (King Florestan XXIV) – The Royal Ballet
Peter Wright, Svetlana Beriosova – The Royal Ballet
Alexander Vedernikov, Dmitri Tcherniakov – Opéra national de Paris 2008
Maurizio Benini, Annabel Arden – Peter Auty (Nemorino), Ekaterina Siurina (Adina)
Riccardo Muti, Pierre Audi – With Diana Damrau (Queen of the Night) and René Pape (Sarastro)...
Mariss Jansons, Martin Kušej – Eva-Maria Westbroek (Katerina Lvovna Ismailova), Ludovít Ludha (Zinovy Borisovich Ismailov), Christopher Ventris (Sergey) – ...
Gianluigi Gelmetti, Emilio Sagi – Juan Diego Flórez (Count Almaviva), María Bayo (Rosina) – Teatro Real Madrid
Lotfi Mansouri, Maurizio Arena – With Plácido Domingo and Shirley Verrett – San Francisco Opera