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Laughing out loud: Some of our favourite comedy moments in opera

Opera isn't all tragic sopranos and tormented tenors, as these five classic comic moments prove.

By Kate Hopkins (Content Producer (Opera and Music))

18 September 2014 at 12.26pm | 5 Comments

‘Das klinget so herrlich’ ('That sounds so splendid') from Act I of Die Zauberflöte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Papageno and Pamina are trying to escape Sarastro’s temple when they are interrupted by the villainous Monostatos. Luckily, Papageno strikes up a sprightly dance tune on his magic bells, whose sound comes from the glockenspiel. Monostatos’s fury vanishes in an instant, and he and his minions, enchanted, dance away happily singing. Papageno and Pamina comment that magic bells like these would surely cure the ills of the world.

‘Caro elisir! Sei mio!’ (Wonderful elixir! You're mine!) from Act I of L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti

Nemorino, inspired by the story of Tristan and Isolde, has purchased an ‘elixir of love’ (in fact, cheap Bordeaux) from the quack doctor Dulcamara. He believes that he has only to drink the elixir for his adored Adina to fall for him within 24 hours. As the wine goes to his head Nemorino feels cheerful. When Adina arrives, he pretends to ignore her, and breaks into song, his merry ‘la-ra-las’ accompanied by strumming strings. Donizetti wittily contrasts Nemorino’s jolly wordless melody with Adina’s growing irritation, as she tries to get his attention and – for once – is ignored.

‘Den Tag seh’ ich erscheinen’ (The day I see dawning) from Act II of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Richard Wagner

The pedantic town clerk Sixtus Beckmesser’s attempts to serenade the beautiful Eva Pogner, but his efforts are constantly interrupted by the cobbler Hans Sachs. With the excuse that he has to finish Beckmesser’s shoes in time for the next day’s singing competition, Sachs marks each of Beckmesser’s musical and poetical faults with a stern blow of his hammer. Wagner cleverly contrasts Beckmesser’s pompous song – accompanied by faltering mandoline, full of florid ornamentation and awkward rhymes – with Sachs’s dry comments. And then it turns out that Beckmesser is serenading the wrong girl anyway!

‘Gonzalve! Gonzalve!’: Duet for Concepion and Gonzalve from L’Heure espagnole  by Maurice Ravel

Concepcion’s arranged a romantic rendezvous with the poet Gonzalve while her elderly husband Torquemada is out. But things aren’t going her way. First she has to get rid of the muleteer Ramiro, who wants his watch mended. Then when Gonzalve arrives he’s more interested in declaiming florid poetry (depicted by Ravel in swooping vocal lines and grandiose orchestral crescendos) than getting down to business. Concepcion isn’t impressed and makes frantic attempts to get Gonzalve to concentrate on love-making – but to no avail.

‘There’s no need to fear’ and ‘Up! Drink! Up!’ from scene 3 of Le Grand Macabre by György Ligeti

The grim reaper Nekrotzar announces that he will destroy the world at midnight, and recruits the wine-taster Piet the Pot and the astronomer Astradamors to help him. Piet and Astradamors suggest a last feast – washed down with plenty of wine. They dance round Nekrotzar, shouting and insulting him in a jolly folksong-like tune, and order him to drink. Nekrotzar initially prefers to make pompous apocalyptic pronouncements in sonorous tones, but is tempted by the smell of alcohol. The music dissolves into a demonic trio, with jazzy syncopated rhythms and thudding percussion, as Piet and Astradamors continue to mock ‘Tsar Nekro’, and he doggedly downs wine, accompanied by loud orchestral hiccups. The scene soon collapses into anarchy. The following aria, sung in code by the crazed Gepopo, Chief of the Secret Political Police, gives you an idea of the kind of anarchy Ligeti can conjure!

What are your favourite comic moments in opera?

L'elisir d'amore runs from 27 May–22 June 2017. Tickets are still available.

This article has 5 comments

  1. Daniel Havlicek responded on 22 October 2014 at 1:04pm Reply

    There is a moment in The Bartered Bride. Where the marriage organisers describes the son of Vavra to the parents of the future bride Marenka. Production at ROH was the funniest I have ever seen.

  2. Anne Aldridge responded on 7 January 2015 at 1:17pm Reply

    Antonio in Figaro of course!

  3. Teresa Guerreiro responded on 14 May 2017 at 4:09pm Reply

    And nothing from one of the most genuinely funny operas, Un Turco in Italia?

  4. Andy Bent responded on 14 May 2017 at 10:29pm Reply

    "Mariandel"'s ruthless demolition of Baron Ochs and Mistress Quickly"s hoodwinking of Falstaff are both hilarious

  5. Rowena Shepard responded on 20 May 2018 at 6:06am Reply

    One of my favourites is in Don Giovanni, when the Don and Leporello change clothes, then Leporello has to pretend to be the Don while he "serenades" Elvira and gives him stage directions.

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