An enjoyable opera song or aria should be emotional and understandable (despite any language barriers) as well as inclusive of music that complements the lyrics and is generally melodic. The top 25 opera songs and arias of all time exemplify this. From comedy to drama and intrigue, these opera songs and arias evoke the height of emotion and the joy of experiencing timeless classics.
We appreciate the variety of this list and hope you’ll enjoy exploring these opera songs as well.
1. Weep You No More Sad Fountains
This lovely, sweetly melancholic aria was written to set the John Dowland-credited poem to music. This poem and song were popular in Elizabethan England and often played by lute players. Dowland received credit for this poem as he was a popular composer and a king’s lute player at the time. As love, death, and religion were popular renaissance themes for art and poetry, this hooked members of the court then just as it grips our emotions now.
Patrick Doyle arranged “Weep You No More Sad Fountains” for Kate Winslet to sing in the movie Sense And Sensibility. Though a more traditionally operatic version appears on the soundtrack, Winslet’s version engaged fans of the regency film, as it reflects her character, Marianne Dashwood. In this clip from the movie, we see Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) first behold Marianne, and the song acts as a bridge of romance and sorrow shared independently—and later together—by the characters.
2. The Magic Flute
Diana Damrau’s performance of the Queen Of The Night at The Royal Opera reflects an intense amount of control, not only notable for vocal mastery, but for the amount of power that her character embodies. For a modern audience, it’s difficult to interpret a coloratura range as powerful without the shrillness that would ruin an aria, yet Damrau nails it.
Mozart wrote the part for his sister-in-law, Maria Josepha Weber. This piece is notoriously challenging, and music historians have debated whether he wrote it that way because he was impressed by her talent, or because he didn’t care for her and he wanted to create something that would challenge and frustrate her. Any aria or song that begins with “The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart,” as sung from angry mother to daughter is sure to be an enduring attention grabber.
3. La Donna È Mobile
Everyone knows “La Donna È Mobile” from Rigoletto—it’s quite recognizable and was often used in children’s cartoons. Irrevocably associated with Italy, this opera song is a canzone sung by the Duke of Mantua in the Verdi opera. This character is a womanizer, and he declares “the woman is fickle,” matching the song’s punchy, catchy, and jovial tone emblematic of unfaithfulness.
4. Se Tu M’Ami
Most soprano voice students are familiar with the melodic “Se Tu M’ami,” an Italian aria written by composer Alessandro Parisotti. The trick to singing this song is to embody the flirtatious, sassy nature of the singer as it’s not meant to be a truly sad song. The title means “If you love me” and has quite a playful bridge. It was popularized in the early 20th century by aria master Claudia Muzio.
The most popular version in modern times is the Cecilia Bartoli version, which many young women have used to model their own performances. The aria is simple and sweet, and a staple for anyone learning Italian.
5. Notre Amour
Gabriel Fauré’s “Notre Amour” is a challenging and airy aria that demonstrates the open romance of the French language in which it is written. It’s intentionally complex for the accompanist, and the vocalist very much must carry the melody to avoid chaos. Singer Barbara Hendricks comments that she uses music to speak to the audience, more like a conversation.
This song appeared as a composition before the lyrics were published as a poem. It’s considered especially challenging for vocalists, especially non-native French speakers, due to the lengthy number of words in such a brief aria.
6. O Sole Mio
“O Sole Mio” is one of the most famous and recognizable opera songs. It’s Neapolitan and was created in 1898 with lyrics by Giovanni Capurro and music by Eduardo di Capua and Alfredo Mazzucchi. The song is, at face value, about the radiance of the sun, but as it goes on, we find that it describes a love great enough to reflect the speaker’s own glory, capped by feelings of regret and distance in the final stanza.
Many famous opera singers have covered “O Sole Mio,” so it seems only appropriate to list Luciano Pavarotti as the quintessential voice for this world-famous opera song. His approach is bold, broad, and controlled, with his trademark smile accompanying his vibrato. Here, we also hear the softness of his range, marking him a master of the crescendo through his interpretation of this classic.
7. Largo Al Factotum
From Rossini’s The Barber Of Seville, “Largo Al Factotum” is bold and punctuated, allowing the character to talk about his skills in a quick way. You might also know this as “The Figaro Aria.”
8. Quando Me’n Vo’
Also known as “Musetta’s Waltz,” this soprano aria from the second act of Puccini’s 1896 masterpiece La Boheme is all about Musetta trying to attract the attention of her on-again, off-again boyfriend Marcello. Young love, tragic love, feel the drama and hopefulness in this aria as performed by Simona Mihai in The Royal Opera’s production.
9. Ride of the Valkyries
Everyone recognizes Wagner’s magnificent “Ride Of The Valkyries” orchestral introduction, but we often forget the challenging and powerful musical expression from the Valkyrie characters at the beginning of the opera Der Ring Des Nibelungen, where they divulge their feelings and plans for the Ring.
The terrifyingly beautiful ferocity of the Valkyries comes through in this magnificent Metropolitan Opera performance, where the armored women express a stout, staccato laugh as they prepare to bring the fallen heroes to Valhalla. The most fun-to-sing and astounding part of the vocals is the Valkyries’ battle cry, intended to ring (pun intended!) throughout the venue.
10. O Mio Babbino Caro
Simple lyrics. Family feuds. Hypocrisy. “O Mio Babbino Caro” reflects the operatic reality of drama in Florence society in this Puccini work, and this song is about a daughter pleading to her father for a specific outcome that would allow her to be with her lover. Anna Netrebko captures this best, which can be heard from the video above.
11. Nessun Dorma
“Nessun Dorma” comes from Turandot, a Puccini opera. It means “None shall sleep,” and Luciano Pavarotti sang the universally accepted paramount version of this aria at the 1990 FIFA World Cup. This is an appropriate song to provide hope to humanity—or to a sports team at a soccer game—as the character meant to sing it in the opera wishes to solve three riddles to win the hand of the woman he longs for.
12. Il Dolce Suono
Popularized in modern times by the movie The Fifth Element in 1997, “Il Dolce Suono” tackles the concept of forced marriage from Donizetti’s 1835 opera Lucia Di Lammermoor. Here, the main character Lucia considers what it might have been like to marry her true love instead.
13. Anvil Chorus
You’ve heard this one before—this song from Verdi’s Il Trovatore is extremely famous. Named for the striking of anvils by chorus members in the scene, “The Anvil Chorus” has been produced with varying levels of comedy, but we prefer this lively take from The Metropolitan Opera.
14. Ave Maria
Schubert’s setting of “Ave Maria” is not precisely an opera-included aria, but it is one of the most famous arias in the world—it’s used at weddings, movies, and any setting in which grace must be conveyed. Barbara Bonney offers the quintessential, ethereal version. Used in likeness with the Roman Catholic prayer, the song is derived from Sir Walter Scott’s poem, The Lady Of The Lake.
Verdi’s La Traviata provides us with this beautiful aria, “Brindisi.” Lively, dynamic, and courageous, this is a happy lively drinking song.
Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” is undoubtedly one of the more famous opera songs out there, and it’s frequently used in films and accompanying other pieces of art to underscore dramatic enlightenment through sorrow. As part of his Requiem, it is universally considered the most moving piece.
To add to the drama and epic sadness of the piece, Mozart wrote this but didn’t finish it—he died, so one of his students completed the work. He was dying, and he knew it; this is what the glory of a lived life sounds like. The opening ritornello of “Lacrimosa” is all anyone needs to add to express the foreboding of an epic battle and ensuing death.
17. Au Fond Du Temple Saint
Meaning “At the back of the holy temple,” this Bizet opera song is from Les Pêcheurs De Perls or The Pearl Fishers. The male characters reminisce about their love for the same woman, which they renounced to keep their friendship.
Accompanied by the harp, this opera song is a flighty and passionate remembrance in the form of a duet. Andrea Bocelli and Bryn Terfel execute this song beautifully, demonstrating the parallel nature of the characters in their words and actions. Are they speaking to each other or themselves? Look carefully: direction and tone change throughout.
18. Ombra Mai Fu
This piece, written by G. F. Handel for his opera Serse, which premiered in 1738, features the historical figure Xerxes singing to a tree, overwhelmed by its beauty. Though his song is sincere and inspired by a historical legend about Xerxes and the tree, it takes on an almost comical presence in the opera, as things are so complicated for him in typical baroque opera fashion; he should have maybe just settled with the tree!
Sung here by Philippe Jaroussky, we hear the delicate nature and sincerity required for this piece, accomplished beautifully by this countertenor. He is elegant and sensitive in his interpretation.
Next: Best baroque composers
19. When I Am Laid In Earth
Noted as one of the saddest arias ever, “When I Am Laid In Earth” conveys the emotion of a woman ready to die. “Remember me, but ah! Forget my fate” is such a wrenching plea. Set to music by Purcell for his opera Dido and Æneas, this song cannot be sung flatly; the singer must act as much to convey the sorrow. It is that weighty, and Sarah Connelly masters the song here.
20. Vivo Per Lei
Andrea Bocelli expressing “I Live For Her” is one of the most passionate arias one could experience. While sometimes sung about a woman, it could also be about “la musica” or music, a feminine word in Italian. The very definition of popular opera in the late 20th century, Bocelli performed this song with many talented female artists, including Trinidadian-born American singer Heather Headley.
21. Casta Diva
If you’re interested in embracing the feeling of the calm before the storm, we suggest you experience “Casta Diva.” So few pieces in history capture this serene tension the way Bellini does, and no one sings it like Renée Fleming.
22. Think of Me
Christine Daae sings this beautiful aria in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera. The main character and love interest for the Phantom, Christine demonstrates her transformation from delicate ingenue to capable lead as she sings before her love interest, Viscount Raoul de Chagny.
The song crescendos into a mountain of skill at the closing, transforming Christine’s sweetness into a moment of skill appropriate for her large production. Sopranos consider this to be one of the most empowering songs a young woman can sing on her journey as a professional or hobby singer while she’s learning.
From Bizet’s Carmen, “Habanera” exemplifies lust, temptation, trickery, and power in the ways of love and sex. In The Royal Opera’s presentation, Anna Caterina Antonacci presents a purely sultry interpretation of the song full of teasing.
24. Mein Herr Marquis
Sung expertly by Patricia Janečková, “Mein Herr Marquis” from Die Fledermaus by Strauss is a difficult song to perform with such flirtation, but she pulls it off!
25. When I Was a Lad
The shift from opera to musical couldn’t have happened without the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, such as this classic from HMS Pinafore. Examining privilege and politics, the song details how the character earned a position in the Royal Navy by doing absolutely nothing related to the Navy.
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