A compilation of the most beautiful sad arias with explanations and great YouTube videos.
TOP 10 OF SAD ARIA
POVERO ERNESTO ... CERCHERO LONTANA TERRA
from DON PASQUALE by Gaetano Donizetti
Plot: At night in the house of Don Pasquale. Ernesto is sitting on packed suitcases and wants to emigrate to America. He feels abandoned by his own and is deathly unhappy because marriage to the beloved Norina has become impossible.
Donizetti presents us with something unusual in this aria. A deeply sad trumpet solo leads us into the mood of Ernesto. Normally, the listener does not associate this instrument with these feelings. Donizetti probably deliberately provoked this effect to emphasize the complexity of the story, which is meant to be more than a mere comedy of mistaken identity.
Florez presents us with a vulnerable yet not sentimental Ernesto. The recitative of the first part is magnificently interpreted and makes one feel the despair (“Povero Ernesto”) of the abandoned and betrayed, and at the end of the long aria he shows a flawless and effortless high C.
O TOI QUI PROLONGEA MES JOURS
from IPHIGÉNIE EN TAURIDE by Christoph Willibald Gluck
Plot: Iphigénie is in despair. After her parents, she also believes her brother dead. Still the curse of Tantalus hovers over the family. She does not want to live on and turns to the goddess Diana, she should unite her with her brother Orest in the afterlife.
Iphigenia’s great da-capo aria (A-B-A) in Act 1, in which the priestess begs the goddess Diana to let her die, is marked by a plain and noble simplicity. It is an “Aria di cantilena” composed in slow tempo and with long lines to be sung with perfect legato.
After the exuberant “Pour mon âme,” the libretto deftly shifts to absolute contrast. Donizetti was aware that a good comedy needs human emotion. This moment is provided by the deeply sad “Il faut partir, another highlight of this opera. The piece, bathed in a somber F minor, is introduced and accompanied by a melancholy solo by the English horn.For the first performance of Candide, the casting team had great difficulty finding a suitable singer who could manage the high notes. Barbara Cook was the first cunegonde. Bernstein personally selected her and coached her for this difficult role. Cook later compared singing this piece to an athletic grandeffort.
MY WORLD IS DUST NOW ... IT MUST BE SO
from CANDIDE by Leonard Bernstein
Plot:His family forbids Candide from unworthy association with Cunegonde and chases him away. He is deeply sad to have to leave Cunegonde. But he wants to look forward, did not Dr. Pangloss teach him optimism? He believes in the fate that holds for him the best of all possible worlds.
Candide’s character, with its serious music, immediately recalls Mozart’s tenor roles such as Don Ottavio or Belmonte. As in “Don Giovanni” and “Abduction from the Seraglio”, it is a serious role in a tragic comedy, in other words a character of opera seria who involuntarily ends up in an opera buffa. It is Candide’s tragedy that his beloved is not an alter ego like Konstanze or Donna Anna, but only a sly, luxury-addicted Cunegonde.
EINSAM IN TRÜBEN TAGEN
from LOHENGRIN by Richard Wagner
Plot: Elsa’s brother is dead and she is suspected of being responsible. The king is to judge Elsa before the judgment tree. Elsa is given the opportunity to defend herself in court. She appears and makes an absent impression, still in shock from the death of her brother.
After a brief introduction of flutes and strings, Elsa begins her dream in a pure and luminous voice. The slow tempo reinforces the feeling of loneliness. The following section contains a grand crescendo. It begins with “da drang aus meinem Stöhnen” and ends with “in die Lüfte”, beautifully accompanied by whirring violins. Elsa sinks into sleep and a beautiful orchestral transition leads into the Grail motif. Her vision begins…
Janowitz’s interpretation of this aria is simply magnificent. We hear Elsa’s purity, vulnerability and confidence in this aria. Her crescendo is breathtaking and the ending is world-weary.
ACH ICH FÜHLS
from THE MAGIC FLUTE by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Plot: Tamino and Papageno are led to the next test. The three boys appear and bring the two their instruments. Delighted, Tamino plays the flute and Pamina appears, attracted by the sound. When she addresses Tamino, he remains silent and Pamina believes she has lost his love. She does not know that Tamino’s silence is part of the test.
This aria is written in a deeply sad G minor, with a melody that has long lines in the piano. The phrases should be beautifully shaped, and each vowel must be sung out. The orchestra begins in a slow andante with a funeral march-like motif. The leads on “fühls” and “hin” of the first verse give the piece an infinitely painful character that contrasts with the warm high B on “Liebe” in the second verse. This is followed by a delightfully nostalgic “Nimmer kommet ihr, Wonnestunden”. In the next passage, Tamina incredulously asks Tamino “Fühlst Du nicht der Liebe sehnen” and at the word “Liebe” the high B sounds only sad and resigned. At the passage “so will Ruh im Tode sein” the music becomes ghostly and wan. The ethereal pianissimo leaps of tone already seem to resound from the afterlife.
Listen to the beautiful interpretation by Barbara Bonney, it is very lyrical despite the fast tempo.
LA MAMMA MORTA
from ANDREA CHÉNIER by Umberto Giordano
Plot: Magdalena mourns the fate of her parents, who perished in the turmoil of the Revolution. Now her lover Andrea Chénier has also been arrested by the Jacobins. She seeks out the prosecutor Gérard and asks him to release Chénier. Gérard confesses his love to Maddalena and Maddalena then offers him a night of love if he will release Chénier.
This aria of Maddalena consists of two parts. At the beginning is a bitter indictment of the cruelties of the Revolution, in the second part we hear an ecstatic hymn of love. The aria begins with a lone cello that enters “Con espressione.” Maddalena begins with ten notes whispered on the same pitch “La Mamma morta”, wan and resigned. Suddenly and filled with horror, the music accelerates and she sees before her eye the burning house of her family. Horrifyingly, in the pale tremolo of the strings, one hears the crackling of the fire. At the mention of Bersi, warmth flickers; shortly thereafter, the tone turns back to bitterness that Bersi had to wear her beauty to market to ensure both of their survival. A lone viola with a painful and comforting motive of four soaring notes leads into the second part. The mood changes within a few measures. Maddalena sings of her love. With a beautiful passage “nei miei occhi” the heart literally opens. Subsequently, Giordano increases the tempo, the intensity increases several times and reaches its climax with the highest note B on “Ah io son l’amor”. At the end Maddalena falls back into the resignation of the beginning with the horrible “e vi bacia la morte” and it kisses you death.
If you know the movie “Philadelphia”, you may remember how Tom Hanks explains to Denzel Washington the scene from Andrea Chenier “La Mamma morta”, impressively sung by Maria Callas.
LASCIA CHI-IO PIANGA
from RINALDO by George Frederic Handel
Plot: Shortly before her marriage to Rinaldo, Almirena has been kidnapped by Armida. She sits sadly in the garden of Armida’s palace.
Lascia ch’io pianga is one of the most famous arias by George Frederic Handel. He composed it as early as 1705 and transformed it into a lament aria for Rinaldo. Handel managed to write an aria that touches by its simplicity. He wrote the aria in the form of a sarabande, a triple meter with a stretching of the second bar time. The combination with the typical chromaticism of the sequence of notes and the effective ¼ rests result in the famous sighing motive of Handel’s Lamento. We hear this effect right at the beginning.
This aria is one of the most unique pieces in operatic literature. The singing machine Olympia is on stage for half an hour and for a long time only says “oui”. Finally, she awakens and begins to sing. Offenbach, of course, drew a caricature of the singers of the Grand Opéra; the coloratura singer only has to be wound up and she produces notes like an automaton. The aria is virtuosic with many coloraturas and at the same time the singer has to imitate with her voice the choppy singing and the mechanical dancing movements of a puppet, just as the composer had ingeniously set it to tones. This is a great challenge for the singer in live performance.
This aria has been recorded by countless singers. Listen to it interpreted by the American soprano Marilyn Horne. She does without ornamentation in the first part, which emphasizes the simplicity of the piece. The vibrato is very expressive and her stupendous technique allows her beautiful trills in the middle section.
from LE NOZZE DI FIGARO by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Plot: In the chambers of the Countess. The Countess suffers from her husband’s disloyalty and would rather die than continue to live unworthily.
In this aria, the Countess misses the times when the Count loved her dearly. Undoubtedly, “Porgi amor” is one of the highlights of the opera and one of the most beautiful lyrical pieces written for soprano. The music is set in major, although the Countess’s mood is sad and contemplative, this is perhaps even the charm of this piece. The aria begins in piano and culminates in the middle, with the heartbreaking death wish “O mi lascia almen morir” repeated twice, accompanied by the unearthly, painful cantilena of the clarinet. “Porgi amor” is the first appearance of the Countess. She is alone on stage and immediately has to sing the most beautiful aria of the opera, some singers have respect for this piece because of it. Otherwise, there are no great vocal difficulties, it is a simple cavatina and its duration is comparatively short. But as always with Mozart, the simple things are the most difficult.
Listen to this aria in Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s wonderful, melancholy and unbeatable interpretation. Every word is given a beautiful tone color. Her breathing is imperceptible and the great legato makes the music shine with beautiful long phrasings.
TENESTE LA PROMESSA ... ADDIO DEL PASSATO
from LA TRAVIATA by Giuseppe Verdi
Plot: Violetta is in her bedroom. She is weakened and the doctor whispers to Annina that she has only a few hours to live. Violetta reads the letter from Germont. She learns that Duphol had fought a duel with Alfredo and was seriously injured. Alfredo had then fled abroad. George Germont himself had realized his mistake and explained everything in a letter to his son, asking him to come to Violetta. Deeply saddened, Violetta feels that it is too late.
As Violetta reads Germont’s letter, we hear the love theme tenderly sounding in the strings. Now begins one of the great farewell arias of opera literature, introduced by the oboe and accompanied by sixteen muted strings. Violetta’s singing is occasionally played around by the cor anglais, occasionally doubled. The first stanza sounds somber in minor, the second transfigured in major.
WHEN I AM LAID IN EARTH
from DIDO AND AENEAS by Henry Purcell
Plot: Aeneas appears at his lover Dido’s house and tells her that the gods are forcing his departure. But Dido accuses him of taking the order only as an excuse to leave her. Aeneas then decides to reject the order of the gods and stay. But Dido is not interested in pity. The mere fact that he has thought of leaving her is reason enough for her to break off her love. When Aeneas has left Carthage, Dido decides to die by her own hand.
This piece is one of the great arias of opera literature. It is a lamento, a classic product of baroque opera. It is one of the handful of Baroque lamenti that can truly move the listener to tears. Purcell wrote this piece immensely effectively. It begins with a downward chromatic motive in the bass accompaniment that becomes a deeply sad ostinato. At the end of the ostinato, Dido enters with her Lament. This melody captivates with many great effects. Particularly impressive: in contrast to the downward ostinato of the accompanying voice, Dido’s melody strives upward (from the g at “when” to the e at “no”) with leaps in tone (and subsequent downward notes), which makes Dido’s discord visible. Also contributing to the somber mood is the beautiful appoggiatura (foreshadowing) on the first “laid” (an added dissonance, foreign to the melody, that occurs on the stressed part of the measure and is resolved on the next note). We find another beautiful effect of the singing voice in the somber tritone on “trouble” in the note example above. In the second part, Purcell introduces another element in the voice part, “Remember me,” which is enchanting for its simplicity. With the final “Remember me,” Purcell allows the music to soar to comforting heights, before concluding with “forget my fate” in the depths of despair.
Perhaps the most desolate and thus poignant recording is by Janet Baker. She sings the aria in an almost choked voice that only opens up with the final bars, creating a magnificent effect.