Famous Italian Operas Everyone Ought to Know

When you hear the word opera, do you think of famous Italian operas?

Italy is where opera was born. Some of the greatest operas include famous opera songs that have been created by famous composers in Italy. There was a time when opera music was composed exclusively to Italian language lyrics. A list of famous operas is provided below.

For many people, Italian opera is associated with famous opera composers, classic Italian music, wondrous Italian culture, volatile Italian history and fascinating Italian traditions. For some, even Italian fashion designers and famous Italian villas come to mind.


11 Things to Discover About Famous Italian Operas

Italian Opera
Italian Opera

  1. Scandal, Intrigue, Betrayal…. Elements of an Italian Opera
  2. Some of the Best Known Opera Theatres are in Italy
  3. The Tragic Italian Opera Clown – One, Two, Three?
  4. The Best Italian Vacations Include an Opera Performance
  5. Drama is a Feature of Opera
  6. Many Operas Portray Italian Culture
  7. Glorious Italian Opera Singers – Past and Present
  8. The Bel Canto Tradition of Italian Opera
  9. A List of Famous Italian Operas
  10. Brilliant Italian Opera Composers
  11. The History of Opera Begins in Italy
  12. Italian Opera Songs Recognized by All Opera Lovers

Why do Most People Think Italian, When They Think of Famous Operas?

Italian Opera Concert
Italian Opera Concert

To answer any question about Italian opera, we should probably ask a few more detailed questions.

Where did opera originate? In Italy. Italy is the land, where opera was born, the land of the beginnings of opera. Of course, it wasn’t called Italy at that time.

  • Venice
  • Florence
  • Rome

are the Italian cities where opera began. Today, opera continues to flourish in Italy –

  • Milan (La Scala)
  • Naples (Teatro San Carlo)
  • Pisa (Teatro Verdi).

Who wrote the first opera?

An Italian, of course. The formal name that was first used in the 17th century was opera di musica – “a work in music”. There is some discussion as to which should really be considered the first opera.

The choice is:

  • Dafne composed by Jacopo Corsi and Jacopo Peri to Ottavio Runuccini’s libretto, performed in Florence in 1598
  • Rappresentatione di anima at di corpo composed by Emilio de’ Cavalieri to the text of a sacred morality play, performed in Rome in 1600
  • L’Orfeo composed by Claudio Monteverdi to a libretto by Alessandro Striggio, performed in Mantua in 1607.

But, there is no doubt! They were all composed by Italians.

Who invented opera?

The Italians. And, famous Italian opera singers continue to cultivate the best of Italian opera as part of popular culture. Who can forget Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo and the opening of the 1990 World Cup and what they did to popularize opera!

Who started opera?

The Italians, of course. Opera began in the royal courts of the Italian artistocracy in the 17th century. The artists and craftsmen, who put on the opera productions were employed by the court on a full-time basis. After attending the productions, the diplomats and invited guests would write letters to their friends and family at the many other royal courts in Europe. In these letters, they would describe the magnificence and splendour of the spectacle.


Do Italy Vacations Include an Italian Opera Performance?

Today, many of the best vacation packages to Italy focus their escorted tours of Italy on opera classical music itineraries with an overnight in an old Italian villa. European river cruises often include music programs that focus on Italian classical composers.

The Italian government today is encouraging Italian immersion programs in Italy. Some of these travel tours to Italy, in addition to providing participants with the opportunity to learn in Italian, add time to sample local Italian food as part of a best vacation in Italy experience.

To make an opera performance evening amazing there should probably be a vacation packages to Italy ticket lottery in the opera theatre foyer and a pre- or post-performance dinner at the best Italian restaurant featuring an Italian menu accompanied by famous Italian wines. Sensational!


What Are the Names of Famous Opera Composers of Italian Origin?

Famous Opera Composers
Famous Opera Composers

Famous Italian classical composers include:

  • Amilcare Ponchielli (1834 – 1886)
  • Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901)
  • Gioachino Rossini (1792 – 1868)
  • Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848)
  • Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924)
  • Pietro Mascagni (1863 – 1945)
  • Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857 – 1919)
  • Vincenzo Bellini (1801 – 1835)

These are all names of some of the greatest opera composers who were born on the territory of present-day Italy, spent a major part of their life in the various cities and kingdoms that make up present-day Italy and composed music to an Italian language libretto.


What Are the Names of Famous Italian Opera Singers?

Italian Opera Singers
Italian Opera Singers

Italian opera singers can be those who:

  • were born in Italy
  • spent a major part of their life in Italy
  • performed frequently in Italy
  • became famous singing Italian opera repertoire.

The following is a list of famous Italian opera singers which we are regularly updating with new information for you to discover. We have ordered the list of famous Italian opera singers by birth date.

  • Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi (1705 – 1782) known to the opera world as Farinelli was born in Andria, in the southern regions of present-day Italy. At the time, it was ruled by the House of Carafa, a Neapolitan family of landowners. Farinelli was a castrato.
  • Mattia Battistini (1856 – 1928), an Italian baritone, who in addition to reaching fame with his operatic voice was known for his flamboyant lifestyle.
  • Gemma Bellincioni (1864 – 1950), an Italian soprano who lived a time when opera singers would travel as a troupe from one royal court to another. Discover MORE.
  • Salomea Krusceniski (1872 – 1952), a Ukrainian born soprano, who became a well-known opera singer that the Italians came to consider their own. Discover MORE.
  • Enrico Caruso (1873 – 1921), a tenor, who was born, died and is buried in Naples, Italy.
  • Maria Callas (1923 – 1977), a Greek soprano who perfected the Italian style of bel canto.
  • Luciano Pavarotti (1935 – 2007), a tenor, born in Modena, which is located in the north-central region of Italy. He is buried in the Pavarotti Family crypt in Castelnuovo Rangone, which is about 10km south of Modena, Italy.
  • Placido Domingo (b.1941), a contemporary Italian tenor.
  • Cecilia Bartoli (b.1966), a contemporary Italian mezzo soprano. Discover MORE.

What Are Some of the Most Memorable Italian Opera Songs?

Famous Italian Opera Gala
Famous Italian Opera Gala

Memorable songs, arias, pieces… are tunes that:

  • we remember
  • sometimes go round-and-round in our heads
  • we tend to associate with notable events.

Italian opera songs that are favourites around the world include:

  • Vesti la giubba – from the opera Pagliacci is a tenor aria that has been used in various TV commercials – most memorably for Coca-Cola (a new window will open). As Canio sings the aria, he contemplates his fate of being a clown who must make people laugh despite the fact that inside he may be crying.
  • Celeste Aida – from the opera Aida is a tenor aria in which Radames extols the virtues of the woman he loves.
  • Anvil Chorus – from the opera Il trovatore is performed by the chorus of male and female Gypsies to the rhythm of the anvils or hammers knocking against the hot metal, as they forge their tools and weapons.
  • Libiamo – from the opera La traviata performed by the soloists and choir is often included as a final number of encore in opera concerts.
  • Va pensiero – from the opera Nabucco, better known to some as the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves that inspired the Italian revolution. Discover MORE.

Who is the Famous Clown in the Italian Opera Pagliacci?

Italian Opera Clowns
Italian Opera Clowns

Most people, when they discuss the clown opera or the Italian opera clown are refering to the opera Pagliacci composed and premiered in 1892 by Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857 – 1919).

There are actually more clowns than just one in the opera Pagliacci. There is an evil clown, a jealous clown, a romantic clown – all male, and one female clown that can either be labelled a tramp or an abused young woman depending on the perspective taken by the stage director and conductor.


What Does Bel Canto Mean in Italian Opera?

Bel Canto Concert
Bel Canto Concert

Translated from Italian into English:

bel = beautiful
canto = singing
making bel canto “beautiful singing”.

Bel Canto is a style of Italian opera that was initiated by opera composers Gioachino Rossini (1792 – 1868) and Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848) and popularized by Vincenzo Bellini (1801 – 1835) in the early 19th century.


A List of Operas That are Famous and Italian

Famous Italian Operas
Famous Italian Operas

The following is a list of 10 Italian operas:

  • composed in Italy by Italian composers
  • written in Italian by Italian librettists
  • enjoyed and appreciated by opera lovers around the world.
  1. Aida by Giuseppe Verdi
  2. Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni
  3. Il Barbiere de Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini
  4. La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli
  5. La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi
  6. L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti
  7. Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini
  8. Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi
  9. Norma by Vincenzo Bellini
  10. Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo

Join in the fun of discovering famous Italian operas.

Text by Oksana A. Wynnyckyj-Yusypovych


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