The Best and Worst of Operas Mothers

May 8, 2016

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, Opera Omaha would like to introduce you to the best, and worst, of maternal figures in opera. Unfortunately, moms have it very hard in the opera world, often taking the role of the obligatory villain. Perhaps due to a near male-monopoly on operatic composition, or that the most famous of operatic works were written during a time untouched by any women’s rights movement, locating true role-models among opera’s mothers has proved near impossible. Though largely examples of poor parenting, the opera mothers highlighted below are nonetheless iconic.

Clytemnestra (Elektra, Strauss)

Few, if any, can rival the dysfunctional family at the heart of Richard Strauss’ Elektra. Clytemnestra, as the family matriarch, rules over her unbalanced daughters as a single-mother. Having murdered her husband and driven her son into exile, Clytemnestra can easily be called one of opera’s worst mothers.

Lucrezia Borgia (Lucrezia Borgia, Donizetti)

Product of a politically powerful 15th-century Italian family, the leading lady in Gaetano Donizetti’s bel canto opera dabbled in mixing poisons and arsenic cocktails. Taking offence at even the smallest of insults, Lucrezia Borgia poisons her own son twice throughout the course of the opera, as well as an entire village.

Queen of the Night (The Magic Flute, Mozart)

Singing what is one of the most well-known soprano arias, the Queen of the Night is diametrically opposed to the father figure (Sarastro) of Mozart’s famous The Magic Flute. Representing darkness and revenge, the queen commands her daughter to assassinate Sarastro, threatening to disown her should she refuse.

Norma (Norma, Bellini)

Fierce, smart, and strong-willed, Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma is a mother motivated by politics, religion, and love. Her two children are products of a foundered relationship with an enemy officer. She is understandably hesitant to see them delivered into enemy hands, and contemplates their murder as a means of prevention.

Madama Butterfly (Madama Butterfly, Puccini)

Sympathy is a familiar sentiment surrounding Puccini’s heroines. Madama Butterfly is only a 15-year-old girl when she falls in love with an American naval officer under the pretense of marriage. When the man finally returns to Japan, a day she has been yearning for, he brings his new American wife, prompting Butterfly to commit suicide in the hope that her son will now have a better life.

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