This post is about the opera characters who sing their hearts out to their beloved, and still don’t get any. I want to celebrate the rejected lovers, who get shunned even if the composer has given them the best weapon a character can possibly have, in an opera: a heart-warming melody, an aria to show off their vocal prowess, high notes, coloratura and all. And still, no nookie.
Just to be precise, I explore cases where they actually get rejected, not cases where, by coincidence, or due to twists of the plot, they just happen to end up not scoring. So, for example, Don Giovanni and his serenade, or the whole Don Carlo, don’t apply, because they don’t actually get rejected.
We start with the most glaring examples, which, in my opinion are the perfect embodiment of this concept, because the arias are wonderful, and they are sung to the lovers themselves. So these people actually listen to their suitor sing wonderful music, watch into their adoring eyes and go “Thanks, but no, thanks”.
There are two arias which, every time I hear them I just cannot believe that the response was a rejection. They are Signore ascolta, sung by Liu’ to Calaf in Turandot, by Puccini, and Ja vas lyublyu, sung by Prince Yeletsky to Lisa in the Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky. In these two arias, I actually believe the composers did it on purpose, to write such amazing music for them, just to show us what kind of schmucks their beloved are.
Liù’s aria is heart breaking, like only Puccini’s melodies can be. Puccini is clearly trying to show us the depth of this poor slave girl’s feelings, ignored by the Prince. He clearly sees her as barely human, she being a slave, and can’t even imagine loving her. Here is the eternal Mirella Freni:
Prince Yeletsky’s aria is by far the best melody of the whole opera Pikovskaya dama, and Lisa’s rejection is just completely incomprehensible: he’s a nobleman, honestly in love with her, and, in this clip, he has the dashing good looks of a young Dmitri Hvorostovsky. What is that silly girl thinking? The message is clear: Lisa is foolishly infatuated of Herman, doesn’t know what she’s doing, and is ruining her life.
The next is one of the most shameless declaration of love of the whole repertoire. Amneris, faced with the possibility of losing Radames forever, completely loses all inhibitions, falls apart, forgets her rank and her dignity and begs, begs like a dog. And that heartless, self-righteous idiot, in love with that other slyboots, doesn’t even notice. Two giants, Cossotto and Corelli:
Now a comic relief, with Belcore, who, in L’elisir d’amore sings an aria to Adina. The scene is pretty funny, because Sergeant Belcore is the stereotypical entitled military man, loud, cocky, accustomed to win every heart and expecting every girl to fall for him. His demeanor is so arrogant and lacking in self-awareness, that the scene becomes quite ridiculous. The aria Come Paride vezzoso is very beautiful, pure belcanto (of course, his rival is singing Una furtiva lagrima, so he really doesn’t stand a chance). Here in the interpretation of a seasoned but still fantastic Leo Nucci (with Anna Netrebko as Adina):
Another wonderful, amazing aria right in the face of the loved one, who absolutely ignores it, is Tornami a vagheggiar, sung by the witch Morgana to Bradamante in Handel’s Alcina. Ok, here there is a gender issue, because Bradamante is a woman who dressed up as a man to go and rescue her lover Ruggiero. So Bradamante, being a heterosexual woman, is very troubled and not very receptive to Morgana’s advances. Still, the aria is so amazingly charming that I would bet Bradamante does think about it for a second. Here is Mariella Devia’s perfect version, with an extremely young Marc Minkowski as conductor:
Then we have an aria who is not, strictly speaking, sung directly to the man of her dreams, but almost. I am talking of the letter scene in Evgenij Onegin, where Tat’jana pours her young heart out in the most romantic, naive and convincing way. Her wonderful music is embodied in a letter, which Onegin receives and laughs at. Yes, we all know that, in the end, he will realize that he made the biggest mistake of his life, and tries, clumsily, to repair. But the point is that Tat’jana pours all her amazing emotions to him, and still, no nookie. He laughs. Here is the wonderful Krassimira Stoyanova:
Now we have some examples where the aria is not sung directly to the beloved, but just to the audience. Still, these arias are so amazingly beautiful that make us feel the pain of these poor characters.
The first example is Uberto/Giacomo’s aria O fiamma soave in La donna del lago, by Rossini. This character is so good and noble to become almost unbelievable: he’s madly in love with Elena, as you can hear from his astounding aria, he is an all-powerful ruler, he could do whatever he wants, and chooses to be virtuous and good, and let Elena marry her young beloved warrior Malcolm. The interpretation is, of course, left to Juan Diego Florez, who, I am not afraid to say, has no rivals, dead or alive, in this opera (maybe Giovanni David himself).
The next is a woman whose lover is abandoning her, and she desperately wishes to win him back, in a wonderful coloratura cabaletta, which will give her no help whatsoever, because the jerk is already in love with some young bimbo. I’m talking of Norma, of course, an her Ah bello, a me ritorna. I won’t even mention which singer I’m giving you here, there is only one Norma, after all.
And, lastly, a bad guy. Oh yes, bad guys get great arias as well, and no bad guy gets better music than Il Conte di Luna in Trovatore. He pines for Leonora in his aria Il balen del suo sorriso. The magnificent Giorgio Zancanaro, in a pretty funny movie with Japanese subtitles:
Which “no nookie” aria do you prefer? Which ones have I forgotten?