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Operas for Halloween: Top 5 scariest operas

From a haunted country house to a gruesome severed head, a look at the spookiest moments in opera.

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

31 October 2012 at 1.55pm | 15 Comments

With Halloween happening this week, we asked our social media following for their favourite spooky operas. Here are five that were chosen for their spine-tingling atmosphere:

The Turn of the Screw
Based on the Henry James novella of the same name, Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw is the classic operatic ghost story. An unnamed Governess moves to a country house to take care of two children, only to discover supernatural goings on, and hints of past abuse. As she gets to know the children better, she becomes increasingly convinced that they are suffering some form of demonic possession. Britten leaves it to us to decide whether or not the ghostly happenings at Bly House are in fact all in the mind of the Governess, as the tension builds to a chilling and tragic final scene.

Don Giovanni
The final day of opera’s lascivious anti-hero begins with a cold-blooded murder and goes downhill from there.  The sharp shock of one of opera's most famous overtures plunges the audience into the piece and Don Giovanni's hastening towards damnation, pursued by those he has wronged, until, late in the evening when he is visited by a ghostly dinner guest.  It might have some moments of musical beauty (the aria 'Batti batti bel Masetto' for example) but Don Giovanni remains a work bookended by some of Mozart's most dark and dramatic music.

The passionate Dance of the Seven Veils is the most famous part of Strauss’s Salome. For fans of the macabre, however, it’s the unveiling of the severed head of John the Baptist that steals the show. As the deranged Salome embraces the head and crawls about the stage with it in David McVicar’s Royal Opera production, the blood soaks her dress and skin. Her passionate kissing of the head shocks Herod and his guests so profoundly that the Tetrarch (hardly a figure of virtue himself) orders Salome’s execution. This final scene is harrowing – but also deeply moving, as McVicar encourages us to feel sympathy for this troubled heroine.

With witches and ghosts aplenty, no Halloween opera list would be complete without Macbeth, Verdi’s first Shakespearian opera. Verdi adored Shakespeare’s plays, and his score faithfully reproduces the frenzied emotions of the Bard’s original drama. As ambition transforms Macbeth to a murderous tyrant hell-bent on retaining power, Lady Macbeth, who first stirred his ambition, descends into insanity. With the unexpected appearance of the ghost of Banquo, and a hallucinatory vision conjured up by the Witches of Banquo’s ghostly descendants, this is certainly an opera to send shivers down your spine.

King Agamemnon of Mycenae has been murdered by his wife Klytämnestra and her consort, Aegisth. Agamemnon’s daughter Elektra becomes obsessed to the point of insanity with avenging her father’s death. She gets her desire when her brother Orest returns to Mycenae, and Klytämnestra, Aegisth and their followers are killed in one of opera’s most terrifying bloodbaths. But what follows is even more chilling, as the exultant Elektra literally dances herself to death. Strauss’s score depicts every shade of his characters’ tormented emotions, and the grim force of destiny, not least in the monumental ‘Agamemnon’ motif that opens and closes the opera.

What do you think is the scariest opera in the repertory?

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

31 October 2012 at 1.55pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged don giovanni, Elektra, Halloween, horror, Salome, scary, spooky, The Turn of the Screw

This article has 15 comments

  1. Amy responded on 31 October 2012 at 9:22pm Reply

    Last season's ROH performance of Faust sent shivers down my spine!

    • Hadley McIntyre responded on 28 August 2016 at 4:11am

      I worked faust once on Halloween
      A big storm hit after the peformance
      And the power went out in the middle of unloading weights on the lload rail .

  2. Sasha responded on 31 October 2012 at 9:49pm Reply

    I find The Fiery Angel to be the spookiest! The knocking sounds in Act 2, brrrr!

  3. Der Freischütz is pretty scary stuff, especially the Wolf's Glen scene. I'd argue that Tosca is also rather scary.

  4. Eva responded on 1 November 2012 at 6:36pm Reply

    The Makropoulos case.

  5. Steve Curylo responded on 31 October 2013 at 12:59pm Reply

    These are good choices. I would add three more operas to the list, one which just had its world premiere in Northampton MA in September 2013, The Garden of Martyrs, music by Eric Sawyer. It's about two Irish men who were wrongfully accused of murder about 200 years ago, and subsequently hanged. Check it out at
    Another is Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking,
    and if you consider Sweeney Todd an opera, that's another one.

  6. Matt Connolly responded on 31 October 2013 at 2:01pm Reply

    The only opera which has truly shocked me, just from reading the score, is Puccini's Il Tabarro. The final scene is horrific.

  7. Natalie responded on 1 November 2013 at 2:45am Reply

    The Minotaur. The massacre (and worse) of the innocents and the Harpy feasting on their flesh.

  8. Zach responded on 1 November 2014 at 7:37pm Reply

    The Consul by Menotti. It doesn't have monsters, beheadings, or Devils, but the suspense is the most incredible in the repertoire. If the secret police inspector doesnt freak you out, you're wrong.

  9. Ryle responded on 11 November 2014 at 5:23am Reply

    How about Bluebeard's Castle by Bartok? Even if you know the fairy tale, it's a chilling surprise ending

  10. Christopher Stone responded on 30 October 2015 at 1:27am Reply

    Menotti's "The Medium"

  11. Portelance responded on 6 November 2015 at 11:41pm Reply

    Nothing can be scarier than Lady Macbeth of Mtzensk

  12. Brian Morgan responded on 27 October 2016 at 12:16am Reply

    "Mefistofele" and "Erwartung."

  13. Chris Cann responded on 12 October 2017 at 5:47pm Reply

    A glance through my CD collection and these titles leap out as suitable:

    Der Vampyr (Marschner - obvs!)
    The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky)
    Damnation of Faust (Berlioz)
    Ariane et Barbe Bleu (Dukas)
    Kate and the Devil (Dvorak)
    Robert le Diable (Meyerbeer

  14. Yes! Finally something about Dance Radio.

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