I guess you can’t really get into opera without being into really intense feelings, because aside from being about people singing instead of talking, operas are usually about people who feel things really intensely. Opera personas are rarely indifferent. They are rarely put in situations that call for indifference either. Opera stories are usually both dramatic and fairly bloody, and opera personas have to put up with a lot of crap. And thus, if opera personas get angry, they tend to get pissed. There is no “annoyed” or “slightly miffed” in the world of opera, only full-blown anger.
And I like that about opera, because it’s a wonderfully cathartic thing to behold. If you ever feel angry about something or other and you can’t get it out of your system for whatever reason, listening to some opera is not the worst solution. You can be certain that however angry you are feeling at the moment, the opera persona will always be angrier than you are. Or, to put it in graphic terms:
See? Your every-day anger curve is not likely to ever be able to match that of an angry opera persona. You rarely have to put up with the things opera personas put up with, and you’re too easily distracted by things such as the tuna sandwich. And so, however angry you are feeling, you can listen to opera music and take comfort in the fact that the opera persona will without doubt be angrier than you are at the given moment. It’s a comforting, and a cathartic experience all at once, and you should definitely try it out.
If you are not familiar with opera, here’s a quick guide to what I would define as the Five Best Angry Arias and how these may serve as a means of catharsis:
5. Rigoletto: “Cortigiani, vil’ razza dannata!”
You know what would suck? Being forced by physical deformity and poverty into working as a court jester for a decadent, promiscuous duke. This is the kind of crap hunch-backed Rigoletto has to put up with, and granted, Rigoletto is pretty damned angry right from the start of Verdi’s opera. His anger culminates, however, as he has to go retrieve his beloved daughter at the Duke’s castle after she’s been abducted by noblemen, only to be met by said noblemen who tell him that no, they haven’t seen the young girl, and that the Duke is out hunting. Which, as Rigoletto quickly surmises, translates to: “Your daughter is being defiled in the Duke’s bed chamber as we speak.” And this is where Rigoletto loses it:
(Anger starts at 3:27 in the video). Great anger scene, right there. We’re at approximately 80-90 % anger here, I would say. Everything from the cursing lyrics (“razza danata!”) via Rigoletto’s forte vocals, to the rush of the orchestra, signals anger and will provide you with a great outlet for your own frustration.
For the best angry catharsis experience, you will have to turn off the aria again at 4:55 when Rigoletto decides to try the humble approach and becomes rather pathetic, pleading for mercy on his knees. But other than that, this is the perfect angry aria to turn to for catharsis if your anger stems from a feeling of being out of control with your own life and destiny (“Angry Because Work Sucks” would fit into this category, I think). Or if you’re desperately trying to defend your daughter’s virginity, but that happens so rarely these days.
4. Le Nozze di Figaro: “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi“
Figaro is a bit of an atypical angry opera persona in as much as things actually turn out pretty great for him. He doesn’t die, in fact nobody dies, and he even gets the girl in the end. Also, he is not even right to be angry by the time of his angry aria. In the aria he is complaining that women are an unfaithful lot, believing himself to be a cuckold, when in fact he isn’t at all: His girlfriend Susanna is pure as snow and has never cheated on him. However, it should be acknowledged that Figaro has to take a fair amount of crap from his surroundings. In the opera’s very first scene he finds out that his old friend, the Count, is trying very persistently to get to bone Figaro’s girlfriend, Susanna. That’s got to be a pretty big crisis in its own right and it’s bound to give a guy a few trust issues.
In any case, it inspires a pretty good angry aria, and what I particularly like about it, is how rant-y it is. It’s an aria that’s perfect if you’re in the mood for ranting, because, in the wrong or not, Figaro gives an excellent rant here, as evidenced from 00:38 to 01:06 in the below video:
“…maestre-d’inganni-amiche-d’affanni-che fingono-mentono-amore-non-senton, non senton pietà, no, no, no, no!” It took a bit of practising, but I managed to memorise the lyrics several years ago, and the aria never fails to bring me some satisfaction when I’m in a rant-y mood of my own.
3. Don Giovanni: “Ah! Chi mi dice mai”
Donna Elvira is like the matron saint of smited loving opera women. She cannot catch a break. Even before we’ve met her in Don Giovanni she’s been seduced, then left by Don Giovanni, and thus she’s angry the moment she enters the stage (around 70%, I’d say), singing her aria “Ah! Chi me dice mai” about how she would like to carve out the heart of her seducer (at least, you know, if he doesn’t want to return to her):
(Cecilia Bartoli gives good Angry).
This is an aria that’s particularly effective if you’re going through a case of heart-ache and need to vent in an aggressive sort of way.
2. The Magic Flute: “Der Hölle Rache”
I excluded this one from my Magic Flute Top 5, but I guess there’s no real way around it this time. The aria has the word “rage” in its title after all. In many ways it really is the ultimate angry aria, with its impressive, furious coloratura and the raging ultimatum expressed in its lyrics: “Kill Sarastro or I will disown you, my daughter.”
I’ve picked the Diana Damrau version, because she is the angriest Queen of the Night I’ve ever seen:
I would label this as the angry aria that’s best for when you’re in a hysterically angry kind of mood.
1. Elektra: Elektra’s final dance
It probably isn’t exactly healthy to sympathize completely with the rage of the title character of this opera, because Elektra’s rage is precisely what ruins her life and eventually kills her. Elektra’s all-consuming thirst for revenge on her mother for the death of her father whithers Elektra and turns her into a maniac. Revenge is not sweet and behind it lies no satisfaction, only a void that becomes death for Elektra. But that is exactly why I feel that Elektra’s final dance should take the prize in a Top 5 of Angry Arias. Because not only do I feel that Strauss’ music is the most estatically cathartic musical representation of rage I can ever think of (the powerful orchestral repetition of Elektra’s manical, oft-repeated “Agamemnon” after Elektra’s death is particularly brilliant to me), it also illustrates, through the character of Elektra the dangers immanent in giving completely into your own anger.
I love the above version, by the way. Gwyneth Jones’s insane movements and deranged facial expressions are straight out of a 1960s era ghost movie and they give me goosebumps.
If the final dance of Elektra isn’t enough to cure you of whatever anger you’re feeling, then surely nothing will, I say. And thus concludes my guide to the best angry arias out there.