Duets are indispensable to the opera. As dramatic tools, they often do the heavy lifting in establishing or developing relationships. They also represent some of the most passionate, dramatic music and storytelling. The 2023-24 season is filled with some of the most epic duets in the operatic canon. Let’s take a look at just three!
Parental bonds are a strong and repeated theme in Verdi operas, especially father-daughter relationships,
and they often drive the action even more than the relationships between lovers. Gilda and Rigoletto, Aida and Amonasro, Amelia and Simon Boccanegra, Count Stankar and Lina (Stiffelio), and the Marchese di Calatrava and Leonora (La forza del destino) represent a few of Verdi’s father-daughter relationships. Azucena’s complicated relationship with her beloved adopted son Manrico in Il trovatore and the humorous conflict between Master and Mistress Ford in Falstaff over who their daughter Nannetta should marry vary the theme since mothers are involved. And in La traviata, we get both father-son and father-daughter relationships … of a sort.
One of the most powerful duets in Verdi’s canon is Act II La traviata’s confrontation between Violetta and her lover Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont. Violetta and Alfredo have left Paris to live at her country home, basking in romantic bliss; but soon enough a righteously angry Germont arrives to end the idyll. The scene begins as he contemptuously addresses the woman he believes to be a gold digger and taking advantage of his son’s naiveté. Alfredo’s association with a courtesan has cast a pall over the family name and may prevent his innocent sister from marrying the man she loves. However, Germont quickly realizes that Violetta not only truly loves his son, but possesses a noble spirit; he acknowledges this even before she agrees for the sake of his family to make a painful sacrifice. By the end of their duet, he is ready to fulfill her tearful request to lend her strength by embracing her as a daughter.
Hear Lisette Oropesa and Brandon Hendrickson in a concert version of this beautiful scena and duet, “Violetta Valery? … Pura siccome un angelo.”
Opera is full of love duets between sopranos and tenors,
but of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s three successful operas, two feature a pairing of baritone and sopranos. In a fourth, rarely produced opera, the soprano falls in love with the tenor but eventually leaves him for the baritone — very much like the plot of I pagliacci. In I pagliacci, the baritone is the handsome young lover who steals the heart of the soprano and persuades her to be disloyal to her tenor husband. Canio’s wife Nedda meets her lover Silvio while Canio is drinking at the village tavern. The affair has been going on for some time, but now, Silvio wants more, and in this passionate duet he begs her to run away with him. Unfortunately, Tonio (who has himself made advances to Nedda) happens upon the scene, setting up the opera’s tragic ending. Marina Rebeka and Mario Cassi embody the lovers in the 2021 Arena di Verona production. Hear their passionate “Nedda! Silvio … Decidi il mio destin” .
“Bromance” duets may not exactly be an operatic staple,
but when they occur, they’re significant. Think Bizet’s beloved “Au fond du temple saint” from The Pearlfishers, in which Nadir and Zurga reflect on the beautiful Hindu priestess who has attracted them both, then swear that no woman will ever come between them; or the heroic “Dio nell’almo infondere” from Verdi’s Don Carlo, where Carlo and Rodrigo reaffirm their friendship and commitment to freedom. As Act III of Puccini’s La bohème begins, we enjoy another beautiful tenor-baritone duet between best buddies Rodolfo and Marcello, as they first tease and posture, then tenderly mourn the loss of their respective girlfriends. and Vicente Sardinero sing “In un coupe O, Mimi, tu piu no torni.”