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30 Best Opera Songs of All Time (Most Famous Opera Pieces)

December 28, 2023
best opera songs

I’ve assembled a selection of the best opera songs of all time, offering a journey through the most famous opera pieces that have stirred souls and inspired generations.

This collection serves as a gateway to the grand world of opera, providing both newcomers and aficionados a taste of its timeless beauty and emotional depth.

Top Opera songs of all time

  • “When I Was A Lad” by Gilbert and Sullivan
  • “Mein Herr Marquis” by Johann Strauss II
  • “Habanera” by Bizet (Carmen)
  • “Think Of Me” by Andrew Lloyd Webber
  • “Casta Diva” by Bellini (Norma)
  • “Weep You No More Sad Fountains” by John Dowland
  • “The Queen of the Night’s Aria” by Mozart (The Magic Flute)
  • “La Donna È Mobile” by Luciano Pavarotti
  • “Se Tu M’Ami” by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
  • “Notre Amour” by Barbara Hendricks

1. “When I Was A Lad” by Gilbert and Sullivan

“When I Was a Lad” is a song from the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, H.M.S. Pinafore.

The song is a comic solo sung by the character Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who is boasting about his rise to power in the British Navy.

In the song, Sir Joseph Porter recounts his humble origins as a humble office boy in Somerset and how he managed to climb the ranks of the Navy through a combination of luck, cunning, and knowing the right people.

The song is meant to make fun of the British class system and the way that social connections and privilege are often more important than actual ability or merit.

2. “Mein Herr Marquis” by Johann Strauss II

“Mein Herr Marquis” is an aria from the operetta “Die Fledermaus.”

Since its first performance in Vienna in 1874, the operetta has become one of the best-known in the world.

The aria is also known as “Laughing Song” or “Adele’s Laughing Song” and is sung by the character Adele, a chambermaid who pretends to be a wealthy actress to attend a party.

In the aria, Adele laughs at the absurdity of the situation and the ridiculousness of the people around her.

3. “Habanera” by Bizet (Carmen)

“Habanera” is a famous aria from the opera “Carmen” by French composer Georges Bizet.

The opera tells the story of the fiery and passionate Carmen, a seductive Spanish gypsy woman, and her doomed love affair with the soldier Don José.

It is a seductive aria that shows how beautiful Carmen is and what she thinks about love.

4. “Think Of Me” by Andrew Lloyd Webber

“Think of Me” is a soprano aria from the popular musical theater production “The Phantom of the Opera.”

The musical is based on the French novel “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra” by Gaston Leroux.

It tells the story of a mysterious and disfigured musical genius who lives in the shadows of the Paris Opera House and falls in love with a young soprano, Christine.

“Think of Me” is sung by Christine in the first act of the musical, as she performs for the first time on the stage of the Opera House.

5. “Casta Diva” by Bellini (Norma)

The aria “Casta Diva” is sung by the character Norma, a Druid high priestess, in the first act of the opera “Norma.”

The lyrics are in Italian, and the music has a sad, introspective mood with long, flowing lines.

The aria begins with a prayer to the goddess of the moon, asking for peace and mercy, and ends with a plea for her people to be saved.

6. “Weep You No More Sad Fountains” by John Dowland

“Weep You No More, Sad Fountains” is a famous English art song that was composed by John Dowland, a renowned English Renaissance composer, and lutenist, in the late 16th century.

The title of the song is derived from the first line, “Weep no more, sad fountains; what need do you flow so fast?”

The lyrics of the song express the feeling of sorrow and grief over lost love and encourage the listener to move on from their sadness.

The song is structured as a dialogue between a lover and a fountain, with the lover urging the fountain to stop weeping and to save its tears for a more worthy cause. 

7. “The Queen of the Night’s Aria” by Mozart (The Magic Flute)

The Magic Flute is a singspiel, a type of German opera that includes spoken dialogue along with musical numbers.

The story follows the adventures of Prince Tamino, who is sent by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter Pamina from the evil sorcerer Sarastro.

Papageno, a bird-catcher, helps Tamino in his quest to save Pamina. Together, they face many trials and problems along the way.

8. “La Donna È Mobile” by Luciano Pavarotti

“La donna è mobile” is sung by the Duke of Mantua in Act III of the opera and is one of the most famous and popular arias in all of opera.

The aria’s title translates to “Woman is fickle,” and the lyrics express the Duke’s opinion that women are fickle and can’t be trusted.

The famous tenor singers Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and Enrico Caruso have all recorded “La donna è mobile.”

Its popularity has also led to it being featured in many movies, television shows, and commercials.

9. “Se Tu M’Ami” by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

“Se Tu M’Ami” is an aria from the opera “La Serva Padrona” (The Servant Turned Mistress).

“Se Tu M’Ami” is a soprano aria that is sung by the character of Serpina, the cunning servant who is trying to trick her master into marrying her.

The title of the aria translates to “If You Love Me,” and in the song, Serpina is telling her master that if he truly loves her, he should marry her and stop pretending to be indifferent to her.

Many famous singers, such as Cecilia Bartoli, Maria Callas, and Renata Tebaldi, have recorded and sung it.

10. “Notre Amour” by Barbara Hendricks

“Notre Amour” is a challenging aria that illustrates the open romance of the French language in which it was written.

According to singer Barbara Hendricks, her performances are more like conversations with the audience because of the way she uses music to communicate.

11. “O Sole Mio” by Luciano Pavarotti

“O sole mio” was initially composed in 1898 by Eduardo di Capua, and it quickly became popular in Italy.

The song is about a man who is separated from his love and longs for her return.

The lyrics are written in the Neapolitan dialect, and the song is sung in that dialect as well.

“O Sole Mio” has been recorded by many famous singers, including Enrico Caruso, Luciano Pavarotti, and Andrea Bocelli.

The song has also been used in many movies and television shows, including The Godfather. 

12. “Largo Al Factotum” by Gioachino Rossini

“Largo al factotum” is a famous aria from the opera “The Barber of Seville.”

The aria “Largo al factotum” is sung by the character Figaro, a barber, and jack-of-all-trades who is the central character of the opera.

In the aria, Figaro boasts about his skills and popularity, describing himself as the “factotum” or “jack-of-all-trades” who can do anything for anyone.

“Largo al factotum” has been featured in numerous films, television shows, and advertisements over the years and has become one of the most recognizable and beloved arias in the operatic repertoire.

13. “Quando Me’n Vo’” by Musetta

“Quando Me’n Vo,” also known as “Musetta’s Waltz,” is a soprano aria from the second act of Puccini’s 1896 classic La Boheme.

“Quando Me’n Vo” is about Musetta attempting to get the attention of her boyfriend Marcello, who is emotionally detached. 

In The Royal Opera, Simona Mihai sang this aria, which shows young love, tragic love, drama, and a feeling of hope.

14. “Ride Of The Valkyries” by Richard Wagner

The orchestral piece “Ride of the Valkyries” by Richard Wagner is one of the most famous pieces of classical music.

The music is meant to represent the Valkyries, who in Norse mythology are a group of female warriors who decide which dead warriors will go to Valhalla, the great hall of the gods.

It is often used in films, television shows, and commercials, as well as in other forms of popular culture.

The fast-paced, energetic nature of the music makes it particularly suited to action scenes or moments of high tension.  

15. “O Mio Babbino Caro” by Giacomo Puccini 

“O mio Babbino Caro” is a soprano aria, sung by the character Lauretta in the second act of the opera Gianni Schicchi.

The words “O mio babbino caro” translate to “Oh, my dear papa” in English, and the song is about a young woman pleading with her father to allow her to marry the man she loves.

16. “Vivo Per Lei” by Andrea Bocelli

“Vivo Per Lei” is a popular Italian song, which translates to “I Live for Her” in English.

The song was originally written by Italian composer Andrea Bocelli and lyricist Mauro Mengali and released in 1995 as part of Bocelli’s album “Bocelli.”

It was later turned into a duet with the Belgian singer Hélène Ségara.

 The song has both Italian and English lyrics.

It’s a romantic song about how much the singer loves and cares for a woman who has changed his life.

17. “When I Am Laid In Earth” by Henry Purcell

“When I Am Laid in Earth,” also known as “Dido’s Lament,” is a famous aria from the English Baroque opera “Dido and Aeneas.”

The opera tells the story of the tragic love affair between Dido, the queen of Carthage, and Aeneas, a Trojan prince.

Dido sings about her sadness and fear of dying after Aeneas leaves her to follow his destiny.

18. “Ombra Mai Fu” by George Frideric Handel

“Ombra Mai Fu” is an aria from the opera “Serse.”

The opera tells the story of King Xerxes of Persia and his love for a plane tree.

In the aria, Xerxes sings a beautiful song of love and devotion to the tree, praising its shade and beauty.

The song is often referred to by its opening words, “Ombra Mai Fu,” which means “Never was their shade.”

19. “Au Fond Du Temple Saint” by Georges Bizet

“Au Fond du Temple Saint” is a duet from the opera “Les pêcheurs de perles” (The Pearl Fishers).

The opera tells the story of two fishermen, Nadir and Zurga, who fall in love with the same woman, Leila.

In the duet, Nadir and Zurga sing of their friendship and vow to always support each other, even if it means sacrificing their desires.

It is known for its beautiful vocal lines and its emotional power as it explores themes of loyalty, friendship, and sacrifice.

20. “Lacrimosa” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

“Lacrimosa” is a well-known choral piece from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor.

The Requiem Mass is one of Mozart’s last compositions, and he died before he could complete it.

The composition was finished by Franz Xaver Süssmayr, a student and contemporary of Mozart.

It is a sad song with lyrics that ask for mercy and forgiveness.

21. “Brindisi” by Giuseppe Verdi

“Brindisi” is a song from the opera “La Traviata.”

It is also known as “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (Let’s drink from the joyful cups) and is one of the most famous and beloved arias in the entire operatic repertoire.

In the opera, “Brindisi” is sung by the main characters, Violetta and Alfredo, during a party scene in Act I.

The two characters raise their glasses in a toast to love and happiness, and the music reflects their joyful and exuberant mood.

22. “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert

“Ave Maria” is a sacred song that is traditionally attributed to the composer Franz Schubert.

The text of the song is a Latin prayer to the Virgin Mary, asking for her intercession and protection.

It’s worth noting that “Ave Maria” is not an opera song per se, as it is not typically included in the repertoire of operatic works.

It is often performed by opera singers in concert settings, and its popularity has led to many operatic adaptations and performances of the song.

23. “Anvil Chorus” by Giuseppe Verdi

“Anvil Chorus” is a famous chorus from the opera “Il Trovatore.” 

The opera was first performed in Rome in 1853 and quickly became one of Verdi’s most popular works.

The lyrics are in Italian and celebrate the hard work of the blacksmiths, who are forging weapons for battle.

The opera tells a story of love, revenge, and tragedy, and the “Anvil Chorus” is just one of many memorable musical moments in the work.

24. “Il Dolce Suono” by Gaetano Donizetti

“Il Dolce Suono” is a song from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor.

It is also known as the “Mad Scene” song, as it is sung by the main character, Lucia, in a state of madness.

In the opera, Lucia has been forced to marry a man she does not love, and the stress and grief of the situation cause her to descend into madness.

In the “Mad Scene,” she imagines herself with the man she loves and sings “Il Dolce Suono” (“The Sweet Sound”) to express her happiness and delusion.

25. “Nessun Dorma” by Giacomo Puccini

“Nessun Dorma” is an aria from the final act of the opera Turandot.

It is sung by the character Calaf, a prince who has fallen in love with Princess Turandot, despite her vow to marry only the man who can solve her three riddles.

Calaf sings about his determination to win Turandot’s hand, even though the consequence of failure is death.

26. “Pour mon âme” by Gaetano Donizetti

“Pour mon âme” is an aria from the opera La Fille du Régiment. 

The song is sung by the character Tonio, a young Tyrolean peasant who has fallen in love with Marie, a French girl who was raised by a regiment of soldiers.

Tonio joins the regiment so he can be close to Marie.

 In “Pour mon ame,” he celebrates his acceptance into the regiment and his love for Marie.

27. “Tatiana’s Letter Scene” by Tchaikovsky (Eugene Onegin)

“Tatiana’s Letter Scene” is a soprano solo in which Tatiana writes a letter to Onegin about how much she loves him.

The scene is set in Tatiana’s bedroom, where she has been reading romance novels and daydreaming about love.

As she starts to write her letter, she pours out her heart and soul, telling him she loves him and letting him know how she really feels.

28. “Flower Duet” by Delibes (Lakme)

“Flower Duet” is sung by the two main female characters, Lakmé and her servant Mallika.

The duet takes place in a lush garden, and the two women are gathering flowers for Lakmé’s rituals.

The music is light and delicate, with a gentle, flowing melody that evokes the beauty and tranquility of the natural surroundings.

The two voices blend in a way that is smooth and enchanting. 

This gives the two characters a sense of unity and harmony.

29. “L’Orfeo” by Monteverdi (Savall)

“L’Orfeo” was first performed in 1607 and tells the story of Orpheus, the legendary musician, and poet from Greek mythology, who descends into the underworld to retrieve his wife Eurydice.

Orfeo sings to Hades, the god of the underworld, and asks him to let go of Eurydice.

30. “Voi che sapete” by Mozart (Marriage of Figaro)

“Voi che sapete” is sung by the character Cherubino, a young page who is in love with the Countess.

In the song, Cherubino talks about how complicated love makes him feel and asks the women around him for advice on how to understand and deal with his emotions.

Best Opera Songs – Final Thoughts

The 30 best opera songs of all time come from a wide range of musical styles, composers, and vocal ranges that have always been popular with listeners.

The songs on this list represent a small fraction of the masterpieces that have been created over the centuries, but they stand out as some of the most breathtaking, unforgettable, and influential works in the history of opera.

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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