List of important operas

Last updated

The operas listed cover all important genres, and include all operas regularly performed today, from seventeenth-century works by Monteverdi, Cavalli, and Purcell to late twentieth-century operas by Messiaen, Berio, Glass, Adams, Birtwistle, and Weir. The brief accompanying notes offer an explanation as to why each opera has been considered important. For an introduction to operatic history, see Opera. The organisation of the list is by year of first performance, or, if this was long after the composer's death, approximate date of composition.

Opera Artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Claudio Monteverdi 16th and 17th-century Italian composer

Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi was an Italian composer, string player and choirmaster. A composer of both secular and sacred music, and a pioneer in the development of opera, he is considered a crucial transitional figure between the Renaissance and the Baroque periods of music history.

Francesco Cavalli Italian Baroque composer

Francesco Cavalli was an Italian composer of the early Baroque period. He took the name "Cavalli" from his patron, Venetian nobleman Federico Cavalli.


This list provides a guide to the most important operas, as determined by their presence on a majority of selected compiled lists (dating from between 1984 and 2000) of significant operas: see the Lists consulted section for full details.


Claudio Monteverdi by Bernardo Strozzi, 1640 Bernardo Strozzi - Claudio Monteverdi (c.1630).jpg
Claudio Monteverdi by Bernardo Strozzi, 1640
<i>LOrfeo</i> opera by Claudio Monteverdi, with libretto by Alessandro Striggio

L'Orfeo, sometimes called La favola d'Orfeo[la ˈfaːvola dorˈfɛːo], is a late Renaissance/early Baroque favola in musica, or opera, by Claudio Monteverdi, with a libretto by Alessandro Striggio. It is based on the Greek legend of Orpheus, and tells the story of his descent to Hades and his fruitless attempt to bring his dead bride Eurydice back to the living world. It was written in 1607 for a court performance during the annual Carnival at Mantua. While Jacopo Peri's Dafne is generally recognised as the first work in the opera genre, and the earliest surviving opera is Peri's Euridice, L'Orfeo is the earliest that is still regularly performed.

<i>Il ritorno dUlisse in patria</i>

Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria is an opera consisting of a prologue and five acts, set by Claudio Monteverdi to a libretto by Giacomo Badoaro. The opera was first performed at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice during the 1639–1640 carnival season. The story, taken from the second half of Homer's Odyssey, tells how constancy and virtue are ultimately rewarded, treachery and deception overcome. After his long journey home from the Trojan Wars Ulisse, king of Ithaca, finally returns to his kingdom where he finds that a trio of villainous suitors are importuning his faithful queen, Penelope. With the assistance of the gods, his son Telemaco and a staunch friend Eumete, Ulisse vanquishes the suitors and recovers his kingdom.

<i>Odyssey</i> Epic poem attributed to Homer

The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other Homeric epic. The Odyssey is fundamental to the modern Western canon; it is the second-oldest extant work of Western literature, while the Iliad is the oldest. Scholars believe the Odyssey was composed near the end of the 8th century BC, somewhere in Ionia, the Greek coastal region of Anatolia.


George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner, 1733 Haendel.jpg
George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner, 1733
<i>Agrippina</i> (opera) 3-act opera seria by G. F. Händel with libretto by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani about Agrippina, the mother of Nero, who plots the downfall of Claudius to install Nero as emperor; premiered in Venice at the Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo on 26 Dec. 1709

Agrippina is an opera seria in three acts by George Frideric Handel with a libretto by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani. Composed for the 1709–10 Venice Carnevale season, the opera tells the story of Agrippina, the mother of Nero, as she plots the downfall of the Roman Emperor Claudius and the installation of her son as emperor. Grimani's libretto, considered one of the best that Handel set, is an "anti-heroic satirical comedy", full of topical political allusions. Some analysts believe that it reflects Grimani's political and diplomatic rivalry with Pope Clement XI.

<i>Rinaldo</i> (opera) 1711 opera by George Frideric Handel

Rinaldo is an opera by George Frideric Handel, composed in 1711, and was the first Italian language opera written specifically for the London stage. The libretto was prepared by Giacomo Rossi from a scenario provided by Aaron Hill, and the work was first performed at the Queen's Theatre in London's Haymarket on 24 February 1711. The story of love, war and redemption, set at the time of the First Crusade, is loosely based on Torquato Tasso's epic poem Gerusalemme liberata, and its staging involved many original and vivid effects. It was a great success with the public, despite negative reactions from literary critics hostile to the contemporary trend towards Italian entertainment in English theatres.

<i>Giulio Cesare</i> opera in three acts by Georg Friedrich Händel

Giulio Cesare in Egitto, commonly known as Giulio Cesare, is a dramma per musica in three acts composed for the Royal Academy of Music by George Frideric Handel in 1724. The libretto was written by Nicola Francesco Haym who used an earlier libretto by Giacomo Francesco Bussani, which had been set to music by Antonio Sartorio (1676). The opera was a success at its first performances, was frequently revived by Handel in his subsequent opera seasons and is now one of the most often performed Baroque operas.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart aged 21 in 1777 Martini bologna mozart 1777.jpg
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart aged 21 in 1777
<i>La buona figliuola</i> Italian opera

La buona figliuola, or La Cecchina (Cecchina), is an opera buffa in three acts by Niccolò Piccinni. The libretto, by Carlo Goldoni, is based on Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded. This was Piccinni's most successful Italian opera. There was a sequel entitled La buona figliuola maritata (1761) by the same composer and librettist. La buona figliuola supposta vedova by Gaetano Latilla followed in 1766.

Niccolò Piccinni Italian composer

Niccolò Piccinni was an Italian composer of symphonies, sacred music, chamber music, and opera. Although he is somewhat obscure today, Piccinni was one of the most popular composers of opera—particularly the Neapolitan opera buffa—of his day.

<i>Orfeo ed Euridice</i> Opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck

Orfeo ed Euridice is an opera composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck, based on the myth of Orpheus and set to a libretto by Ranieri de' Calzabigi. It belongs to the genre of the azione teatrale, meaning an opera on a mythological subject with choruses and dancing. The piece was first performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 5 October 1762, in the presence of Empress Maria Theresa. Orfeo ed Euridice is the first of Gluck's "reform" operas, in which he attempted to replace the abstruse plots and overly complex music of opera seria with a "noble simplicity" in both the music and the drama.


Gioachino Rossini, 1820 (International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna) GiorcesRossini1.jpg
Gioachino Rossini, 1820 (International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna)
<i>Fidelio</i> opera by Ludwig van Beethoven

Fidelio, Op. 72, is Ludwig van Beethoven's only opera. The German libretto was originally prepared by Joseph Sonnleithner from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, with the work premiering at Vienna's Theater an der Wien on 20 November 1805. The following year, Stephan von Breuning helped shorten the work from three acts to two. After further work on the libretto by Georg Friedrich Treitschke, a final version was performed at the Kärntnertortheater on 23 May 1814. By convention, both of the first two versions are referred to as Leonore.

Ludwig van Beethoven 18th and 19th-century German classical and romantic composer

Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the classical and romantic eras in classical music, he remains one of the most recognized and influential musicians of this period, and is considered to be one of the greatest composers of all time.

Gaspare Spontini Italian composer and conductor

Gaspare Luigi Pacifico Spontini was an Italian opera composer and conductor.


Gaetano Donizetti Gaetano Donizetti 1.jpg
Gaetano Donizetti


Richard Wagner RichardWagner.jpg
Richard Wagner


Giuseppe Verdi by Giovanni Boldini, 1886 Giuseppe Verdi by Giovanni Boldini.jpg
Giuseppe Verdi by Giovanni Boldini, 1886


Richard Strauss Richard Strauss (b).jpg
Richard Strauss


Giacomo Puccini Puccini2.jpg
Giacomo Puccini

From 1945

Igor Stravinsky Igor Stravinsky LOC 32392u.jpg
Igor Stravinsky

Significant firsts in opera history

Operas not included in the above list, but which were important milestones in operatic history.

See also

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Lists consulted

This list was compiled by consulting nine lists of great operas, created by recognized authorities in the field of opera, and selecting all of the operas which appeared on at least five of these (i.e. all operas on a majority of the lists). The lists used were:

  1. "A–Z of Opera by Keith Anderson, Naxos, 2000".
  2. "The Standard Repertoire of Grand Opera 1607–1969", a list included in Norman Davies's Europe: a History (OUP, 1996; paperback edition Pimlico, 1997). ISBN   0-7126-6633-8.
  3. Operas appearing in the chronology by Mary Ann Smart in The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera (OUP, 1994). ISBN   0-19-816282-0.
  4. Operas with entries in The New Kobbe's Opera Book, ed. Lord Harewood (Putnam, 9th ed., 1997). ISBN   0-370-10020-4
  5. Table of Contents of The Rough Guide to Opera. by Matthew Boyden. (2002 edition). ISBN   1-85828-749-9.
  6. Operas with entries in The Metropolitan Opera Guide to Recorded Opera ed. Paul Gruber (Thames and Hudson, 1993). ISBN   0-393-03444-5 and/or Metropolitan Opera Stories of the Great Operas ed. John W Freeman (Norton, 1984). ISBN   0-393-01888-1
  7. List of operas and their composers in Who's Who in British Opera ed. Nicky Adam (Scolar Press, 1993). ISBN   0-85967-894-6
  8. Entries for individual operas in Warrack, John, and Ewan West (1992). The Oxford Dictionary of Opera. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-869164-8.
  9. Entries for individual operas in Who's Who in Opera: a guide to opera characters by Joyce Bourne (Oxford University Press, 1998). ISBN   0-19-210023-8

Operas included in all 9 lists