Here are the ten most popular operas by number of performances according to Operabase, perhaps the world’s greatest organizer of data relating to the world of opera. The figures apply to the 2015/2016 season. Verdi appears twice, Puccini and Mozart three times each, and Bizet and Rossini both once.
- La traviata, by Verdi. This masterpiece was performed a whopping 4190 times in the 2015/2016 season.
- Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), by Mozart. This singspiel moved up from number seven in 2014/2015 to number two! This work is full of magic and Masonic elements written for Emanuel Schikaneder’s (the librettist) theater in 1791, the year of Mozart’s death. It is indeed very close to my heart. Some people (myself included) believe that Mozart, one of the earliest composers to explore the female psyche and develop strong female characters, advocated the inclusion of women into Masonic lodges in the final scene of the opera when Tamino and Pamina together enter the temple of wisdom, reason, and nature, thereby decreeing a new era of brotherhood. This work was performed 3310 times.
- Carmen, by Bizet. It’s no surprise that this popular work is in the top three. This sexy opera’s many well known arias (“Habanera” and “Toreador Song”) have ensured its spot on the list for the foreseeable future. This work was performed 3280 times, easily making it one of the world most popular operas.
- La bohème, by Puccini. If there were an opera that non-operagoers had heard of, it would have to be this one. Originally conducted by the great Arturo Toscanini, a champion of the works of Puccini, in 1896, this opera has gone on to secure its place in the canon. La bohème was performed 3131 times worldwide in the 2015/2016 season.
- Tosca, by Puccini. While not as well-known as La bohème, this verismo opera is well-loved in opera circles. It was performed 2694 times.
- Madama Butterfly, by Puccini. Had enough Puccini yet? Never! Puccini cashed in on the fashionable orientalism with this one. Small cast, powerful arias, exoticism – a sure-fire path to success! This work was performed 2641 times.
- Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), by Rossini. Finally a comedy on the list! It is interesting to note that this 1816 masterpiece had been done by earlier composers (Giovanni Paisiello in 1782, Nicolas Isouard in 1796, and Francesco Morlacchi in 1816 – yes, 1816!), yet it is only the Rossini version that is still regularly performed today. This “opera buffa of all opera buffe” was performed 2549 times in the 2015/2016 season.
- Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), by Mozart. Composed in 1786, this opera is the first of the Mozart – Da Ponte operas (Mozart worked with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte three times: Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte). Just 30 years old when he composed this work, Mozart ends the opera with one of the themes he kept coming back to – the importance of forgiveness. Try watching the final scene as Count Almaviva asks Rosina for forgiveness without feeling touched. I haven’t been able to yet! This work was performed 2483 times in the 2015/2016 season. Not enough, in my opinion.
- Don Giovanni, by Mozart. The second of the three Mozart – Da Ponte operas. This dramma giocoso is in stark contrast to the Commedia dell’arte-inspired opera buffa Le nozze. This opera is as psychological as Mozart gets, and the musical depictions of characters is phenomenal. It was performed 2299 times in the 2015/2016 season.
- Rigoletto, by Verdi. This tragedy dropped from number eight to ten between the 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 season, but I am glad to see that it is still on the list! This was the first opera I ever saw live, so it has a very special place in my heart. This work was composed by Verdi very quickly (40 days) and contains the masterful quartet “Bella figlia dell’amore,” the ever popular aria “Caro nome,” and the perennial favorite “La donna é mobile.” This opera was performed 2285 times. This work truly deserves to be among the ranks of the most popular operas in the world.
Featured photo of scene in La bohème. Photo credit: Dan Norman