Desert Island OPERA

My Desert Island Opera List

Let me state at the beginning, that I will try to avoid using the word “sublime” more than I should. It is impossible to describe in words one’s reaction and emotions to music – invariably classical . There is an intense, incredible shiver of ecstasy that envelopes the body and soul with these operatic miracles. They are not in any specific order and often I find I am in a ‘mood’ to listen to one aria and the next day to another. The one immutable fact is that these soaring songs must be played at volume levels that mimic the exact effect of the orchestra and singers, actually performing in my living room. I am an atheist but listening to these operatic pieces surely brings me as close to god as I ever will be.

I have a reasonable sound system for my CD collection. Actually I am of that generation that started out with vinyl and then in the 1980s, proceeded to simply duplicate my LP records in a CD collection.


My preference is for these Italian operatic composers: Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti. Most of us know or recognise the familiar tunes from these great operas. My favourites slowly grew on me once the familiar were ‘too familiar’. In all of them, it is the skilful, gifted way that the composer blends and weaves the human voice with the other instruments of the orchestra. In my chosen list, it is invariably a solo instrument that dances and adds counterpoint to the voice, there is no other word to describe this than ‘sublime’!

Guiseppe Verdi


Cortogiano, vi razza dannar” – Act 2 

This aria is the ultimate example of pathos. Rigoletto pleads with the members of the Duke’s court to return his daughter. She is, as Rigoletto sings, but a few metres away in the Duke’s bed, as is the Duke! This aria reaches its climax as he begs the courtiers to understand and there is a sublime ( first time I use the word)  interplay between the baritone voice, cello and clarinet, soaring majestically together –  “Miei signori…persona, pietate…” ( My lords, I beg you, have pity)

Ah, ch’io taccia! a me a lui perdonate…Act 2

A hymn sung by father and daughter as Gilda lies dying and finding peace by realising that in death she will join her  mother in heaven.

La Traviata

The arias of Germont, the father of Alfredo in Act 2 are my favourites.

Pura siccome un angelo

it may not be politically correct in the 21st century, but it is a rather conniving request that Violetta give up her defacto relationship with Germont’s son, Alfredo for the honesty and integrity of the family. Yes the woman is to blame for leading the man astray.

Di Provenza il mar, il suol

Having discovered that Violetta has returned to Paris and rejected Alfredo, his father, Germont, consoles his son and says basically she is only a woman forget her,  your roots are more important ( no not THOSE roots!)

Pargi, o cara, noi lasceremo

Realising what a bastard he has been, Alfredo rushes back to Violetta and begs forgiveness, and says he will make everything legal and then he will take Violetta to Paris for a real honeymoon. Sadly Violetta has pulmonary tuberculosis and belts out one last aria as she coughs and splutters to death and at the same time, presumably transmitting the TB bacillus to Alfredo and Germont.


La Sonnambula

I admit that if tortured  (listening to an Andrew Lloyd Weber CD ) to make a decision about my all time favourite opera, then La Sonnambula is it! I am in illustrious company as I recall that I read somewhere that it is Richard Bonynge’s favourite too!

Whilst “Prendi: l’anel ti dono” is the top of the pops for this opera, my favourite arias are

Cielo. al mio sposo io giuro

Amina is sleepwalking as she sings of her love for Elvino and is dreaming of being at the altar and swearing her marriage vows. Till death us do part. Happily this is ONE opera where the ending is happy and Amina does not die in tragic circumstances.

Oh! se una volta sola rivederlo io potessi. Act 2

This is yet another operatic ‘mad scene’ but with a variation as Amina is sleepwalking, again! Elvino is to marry another girlfriend and Amina is beside herself.

I have not covered Donizetti yet….!

Some of my rare gems are to follow in the next blog