List of Operas Worth Watching [30 Most Famous Operas]

When compiling a list of operas worth watching, it is a difficult task as there are so many to choose from. However, some operas stand out above the rest for their brilliant story and music. What are the most famous operas?

30 of the most prominent, must-see operas ever created are as follows:

  1. Rigoletto
  2. La Boheme
  3. Turandot
  4. Pagliacci
  5. Otello
  6. Lucia di Lammermoor
  7. Il Trovatore
  8. Don Carlos
  9. Tristan and Isolde
  10. Serse (Xerxes)
  11. Le Nozze di Figaro (also known as The Marriage of Figaro)
  12. Norma
  13. Madame Butterfly
  14. Carmen
  15. Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute)
  16. Tosca
  17. Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville)
  18. La Traviata
  19. Guillaume Tell (William Tell)
  20. Don Giovanni
  21. Fidelio
  22. Macbeth
  23. Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow)
  24. Cavalleria Rusticana
  25. Aida
  26. Simon Boccanegra
  27. Porgy and Bess
  28. I Puritani
  29. Der Fliegende Hollander
  30. Faust

Read on to learn more about this list of operas including who wrote them, when and where they were first premiered, and other facts about each.

List of Operas Worth Watch [30 Most Famous Operas]

This list includes operas that were written and composed by the musical geniuses of the past. Each of these operas has a fascinating story to tell.

What makes a great opera? A great opera has both a great story and great music. The story weaves in a compelling manner. The music compliments the story and makes the opera enduring.

This is why some of these classic operas are still attracting the crowds when they are performed in our modern theaters today.

Some of these operas have romantic themes, while others dwell on human dramas and tragedies.

Several popular songs have originated from this list of operas. These songs have gone on to become famous on their own. For example, the aria Nessun Dorma, from the opera Turandot, has been made famous by Pavarotti and Bocelli, and others.

See below for 30 of the most prominent operas ever created:

1. Rigoletto

Rigoletto is one of the best and most famous operas ever created. Giuseppe Verdi is the master creator of this opera in three acts. This opera opened triumphantly when it premiered on Mar. 11, 1851 at La Fenice in Venice.

But it initially encountered difficulties because of the strict censorship of the Austrian censors who controlled theaters in Northern Italy.

The story is about the immoral Duke of Mantua, Rigoletto, his hunch-backed court jester, and Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter. Besides, Rigoletto is considered by many as the first of the operatic masterpieces of Verdi.

list of operas

2. La Boheme

La Boheme is another one of the most famous operas ever created. This opera, divided into 4 acts, was the creation of Giacomo Puccini, composed between 1893 and 1895. It was based on Henri Murger’s novel written in 1851 titled “Scenes de la vie de Boheme”.

The story revolves around a poor sewist and her friends who are living a Bohemian lifestyle. It premiered on Feb. 1, 1896, at Teatro Regio, in Turin, Piedmont, Italy.

3. Turandot

Giacomo Puccini is the composer of this opera in three acts. He most likely based this opera on Carlo Gozzi’s earlier text of Turandot, although he first became engrossed in the subject when he read an adaptation of the play made by Friedrich Schiller.

Others say that the Turan-Dokht epic created by Nizami, the 12-century Persian poet, is based on the original story. Franco Alfano completed Puccini’s work on this opera posthumously in 1926. Then, it was first performed on Apr. 25, 1926, at the Teatro all Scala in Italy.

The song Nessun Dorma is very famous; however, many might not know that it originated from an opera, Turandot. Below is one of the most famous renditions song by Pavarotti:

4. Pagliacci

Next on this list of prominent operas is Pagliacci. The composer of Pagliacci is Ruggero Leoncavallo. Pagliacci is an opera composed of two acts and is the only opera of Leoncavallo that is still being staged today. This opera premiered on May 21, 1892, at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan, Italy.

The story is based on a murder incident when Leoncavallo was still a child. Pagliacci is translated ‘clown’ in English.

5. Otello

Giuseppi Verdi is the composer of this opera in four acts. The story was based on Othello of Shakespeare. Moreover, Otello is Verdi’s penultimate opera, and it premiered on Feb. 5, 1887, at the Teatro Alla Scala, in Milan, Italy.

6. Lucia di Lammermoor

This is a tragic drama made into an opera in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti in 1835. At this time, Donizetti was at the height of his career as an opera composer.

The story was based on the historical novel of Sir Walter Scott, “The Bride of Lammermoor.” Then, it premiered on Sept. 26, 1835, at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy.

7. Il Trovatore

Giuseppe Verdi also wrote this opera in four acts. The story was based on the play “El Trovador,” created by Antonio Garcia Gutierrez. It premiered on Jan. 19, 1853, at the Teatro Apollon in Rome, Italy.

8. Don Carlos

This opera is another creation of Giuseppe Verdi. It is a grand opera consisting of five acts. The story was based on “Don Carlos Infant von Spanien,” a dramatic play created by Friedrich Schiller. And lastly, this opera premiered on Mar. 11, 1867 at the Salle Le Peletier, in France.

9. Tristan and Isolde

Richard Wagner is the composer of this opera of three acts. This is a music drama based on the romance of Gottfried von Strassburg. Wagner worked on this opera from 1857 to 1859, which was then debuted on June 10, 1865, at the Konigliches Hof-und National Theater in Munich, Germany.

10. Serse (Xerxes)

Next on our list of operas is Serse, otherwise known as Xerxes. George Frederic Handel composed this opera and was premiered in London on Apr. 15, 1738. The opera’s plot involves treachery, infidelity, and jealousy, resulting in a mixture of exceptionally magnificent music.

Nichola Hytner, through ENO, made a production of this opera in 1992. As a result, this production put Handel’s Serse back on the opera map.

11. Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)

Many opera lovers consider this as the perfect opera. They say it is a perfect balance of humanity, wit, and glorious and amazing music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed this opera. It premiered on May 1, 1786, at the Burg Theater in Vienna, Austria.

12. Norma

This opera was composed by Vincenzo Bellini. It is considered as a tragedia lirica (lyrical tragedy) in two acts. This opera premiered on Dec. 26, 1831, at La Scala in Milan, Italy.

Many regard this opera as a major soprano aria and a foremost example of the bel canto genre. Maria Callas was one of the most notable opera singers who played the role of Norma.

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13. Madame Butterfly

Giacomo Puccini was the composer of this opera in three acts. The plot is based on John Luther Long’s short story titled “Madame Butterfly.”

Long partially based his story on the stories told to him by Jennie Correll, his sister, and partially on the semi-autobiographical novel by Pierre Loti titled “Madame Chrysantheme.”

Finally, it premiered on Feb. 17, 1904, at La Scala in Milan, Italy.

14. Carmen

Georges Bizet composed Carmen. Its story was based on the novella by Prosper Merimee, with the same title.

Finally, it premiered on Mar. 3, 1875, at the Opera-Comique in Paris, France. This opera did not do well initially, but there were 36 performances in its initial run.

15. Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute)

Magic Flute, created by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is a good combination of almost everything. It features the magnificent Queen of the Night, lovers, the Papageno birdcatcher, Freemasonry, philosophy, and many more.

Finally, this opera premiered on Sept. 30, 1791, at Schikaneder’s theater in Vienna, Austria.

We’ve just looked at the first half of this list of operas. There are so many to choose from it is a difficult task choosing which to include. Read on to see the other 15 most prominent operas ever created.

16. Tosca

Next on this list of operas is Tosca. Giacomo Puccini is also the composer of Tosca, an opera consisting of three acts. This opera’s story is based on La Tosca, A French play written in 1887 by Victorien Sardou.

It is a melodramatic play that was set in Rome in June 1800. Napoleon is threatening the control of the Kingdom of Naples at that time.

Ultimately, the opera premiered on Jan. 14, 1900, at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome.

17. Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville)

Gioachino Rossini composed the Barber of Seville in just fourteen days. The music arias in this opera are difficult to sing, but they are a pure delight to the ears.

The composer had many political and legal problems that postponed its launch, which was finally premiered on Feb. 23, 1775, in the Tuileries at the Comedie-Francaise in France.

18. La Traviata

Giuseppe Verdi is also the composer of La Traviata, an opera consisting of three acts. The story’s basis is the “La Dame Aux Camelias,” adapted from Alexandre Dumas’ novel.

Its original title was Violetta, the name of the main character. It premiered at the La Fenice opera house on Mar. 6, 1853, in Venice, Italy.

19. Guillaume Tell (William Tell)

William Tell was another opera composed by Gioachino Rossini. Its overture is one of the most well-known classical music. This opera has exciting choruses and thrilling arias.

The story is about the Swiss fight for freedom. It premiered on Aug. 3, 1829, at the Salle Le Peletier with the Paris Opera performing.

20. Don Giovanni

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart also composed by Don Giovanni. It is an opera consisting of two acts. The story was based on a fictional seducer and libertine, Don Juan.

On Oct. 29, 1787, the opera premiered at the Teatro di Praga with the Prague Italian opera performing.

21. Fidelio

Ludwig van Beethoven composed Fidelio. Also, this is the only opera composed by Beethoven. The story is about Leonora, who dresses like a man (Fidelio) and tries to rescue her husband Florestan, who is being sent to prison.

It premiered on Nov. 20, 1805, at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, Austria.

22. Macbeth

Giuseppi Verdi is also the composer of Macbeth, an opera consisting of four acts. The story was based on Shakespeare’s play, which has the same title.

This was the first play of Shakespeare that Verdi converted to an opera. It premiered on Mar. 14, 1847, at the Teatro Della Pergola in Florence, Italy.

23. Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow)

This opera features the old aristocracy’s last days in Balkan Europe. The main character, Hanna Glawari, a fabulously rich widow, can’t help but be merry as well.

There’s too much fun in this opera, with dancing girls, melodic waltzes, and the whole works. Franz Lehar composed it.

Finally, it premiered on Dec. 30, 1905, at the Theater an der Wien in Austria. The very popular “Merry Widow Waltz” was lifted from this opera.

24. Cavalleria Rusticana

Pietro Mascagni is the composer of this opera that consists of just one act. The story was taken from a short story and a play authored by Giovanni Verga. It premiered at the Teatro Costanzi on May 17, 1890, in Rome.

25. Aida

Another masterpiece on this list of operas is Aida. This opera is another composition of Giuseppi Verdi. There are four acts in this opera, which was based on the scenario written by Temistocle Solera.

Other historians believe that it is based on the scenario created by Auguste Mariette, a French Egyptologist. Lastly, this opera premiered on Dec. 24, 1871, at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo, Egypt.

best operas

26. Simon Boccanegra

Another composition of Giuseppi Verdi, Simon Boccanegra is an opera consisting of three acts. It is based on the play written by Antonio Garcia. This opera was initially performed on Mar. 12, 1857, at the La Fenice in Venice, Italy.

27. Porgy and Bess

This opera was composed by George Gershwin. The story is about Porgy, a crippled beggar, and Bess his love set in the slums of the American Deep South. Summer Time, a haunting song, popularized by many pop singers originated in this opera.

On Sept. 30, 1935, this opera premiered in Boston but transferred to New York City on Broadway later on.

28. I Puritani

Vincenzo Bellini is the composer of I Puritani, an opera consisting of three acts. It was based on a historical play written by Joseph Xavier Saintine and Jacques-Francois Ancelot. The opera premiered on Jan. 24, 1835, at the Theater Italien in Paris, France.

29. Der Fliegende Hollander

Richard Wagner composed this opera. The composer said he was inspired to write it when he crossed the stormy sea from Riga to London in 1839 during July and August.

This opera was first performed on Jan. 2, 1843, at the Konigliches Hoftheater in Dresden, Germany, with Wagner conducting.

30. Faust

Charles Gounod composed this grand opera, which consisted of five acts. It was loosely based on Faust, Part 1, written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Lastly, this opera premiered on Mar. 19, 1859, at the Theater Lyrique in Paris.

Conclusion: List of the Best Operas

The list of operas that many people have enjoyed watching and listening over the years includes the following:

  1. Rigoletto
  2. La Boheme
  3. Turandot
  4. Pagliacci
  5. Otello
  6. Lucia di Lammermoor
  7. Il Trovatore
  8. Don Carlos
  9. Tristan and Isolde
  10. Serse (Xerxes)
  11. Le Nozze di Figaro (also known as The Marriage of Figaro)
  12. Norma
  13. Madame Butterfly
  14. Carmen
  15. Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute)
  16. Tosca
  17. Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville)
  18. La Traviata
  19. Guillaume Tell (William Tell)
  20. Don Giovanni
  21. Fidelio
  22. Macbeth
  23. Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow)
  24. Cavalleria Rusticana
  25. Aida
  26. Simon Boccanegra
  27. Porgy and Bess
  28. I Puritani
  29. Der Fliegende Hollander
  30. Faust

These operas have captured the heart of die-hard opera fans due to their great storyline, impressive music, and interesting story. It would be quite an accomplishment to have seen all of these operas on the list.