Halloween special: ghosts, witches and vampires
My neighbors’ lawns are full of fake cobwebs and inflatable giant pumpkins, so Halloween must be approaching. There are many ways to give your celebration of this important holiday some operatic flair. Headed to a costume party and unsure what to wear? The beloved website What the FACH should I be for Halloween? has got you covered. More of a homebody? If you just want to curl up with a nice opera recording, you can still theme it to the occasion. Here are ten suggestions of operas that feature the (un)dead and occult.
Dido and Aeneas, Purcell (1689)
The antagonist of Dido and Aeneas’s love story is a sorceress who convinces the hero that he must leave Carthage (and then conjures a storm to wreck his ship). She’s pure evil, and she celebrates her destructive plans in a jaunty arioso, aided by two henchwomen.
Don Giovanni, Mozart (1787)
A statue coming back to life to drag the anti-hero into hell isn’t exactly a ghost, but it’s just as creepy as one. A Commendatore costume will be the hit of any opera geek Halloween party, especially if you can work in some nice smoke or fire effects whenever you shake a fellow guest’s hand.
Der Vampyr, Marschner (1828)
This is admittedly an obscure choice, but this list needed some vampire representation, and Tanz der Vampire is decidedly not an opera. But, really, Marschner’s Romantic opera is perfect. It’s based on the original vampire story, and it includes a Witches’ Sabbath, virgin sacrifices, and the literal lightning strike of fate.
Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti (1835)
No catalogue of operatic ghost stories would be complete without the fountain scene from Lucia. Here, Lucia reveals that she sometimes sees the ghost of a girl who was murdered by her lover in a jealous rage. I’m sure we’re not supposed to read any jealous rages or tragic endings into Lucia’s future. (Opera: not so subtle with the foreshadowing.)
Der fliegende Holländer, Wagner (1843)
The Flying Dutchman features not just a ghost, but an entire ghost ship and crew! The eponymous Dutchman is doomed to sail the seas forever unless he can find a faithful wife. In the August Everding production, his sailors have a definite zombie vibe, so this selection should really count double.
Macbeth, Verdi (1847)
The only thing better than a trio of witches is a whole chorus of them! At least, that must be what Verdi thought, because he gave the malicious chatter and prophesies of the Weird Sisters to the women’s chorus in his operatic adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
The Queen of Spades, Tchaikovsky (1890)
If you scare an old lady to death, she will come back to haunt you. Her ghost might seem helpful at first, but it’s a trick. Consider yourselves warned. (Also, you generally shouldn’t trust anyone who rips up your floor boards in order to make a dramatic entrance.)
Hansel und Gretel, Humperdinck (1893)
Witches who eat lost little children are the scariest kind of witches. Especially when they have charming arias filled with cutesy onomatopoeia and evil laughter.
The Turn of the Screw, Britten (1954)
I would not want to work at Bly House. Malevolent ghosts are bad enough, but dealing with possessed children must be a job and a half.
The Crucible, Ward (1961)
America’s great witch hunt play has an operatic version, too. There are no actual witches (that’s kind of the point), but there are people pretending to be bewitched, so it seems in place on this list.
There are plenty more candidates. The Ghosts of Versailles (Corigliano) and The Medium (Menotti) are obvious choices. Verdi’s Don Carlo ends with the title character being dragged into a tomb by his long-dead grandfather, which has to be one of the most Halloween-y plot twists possible. Rusalka (Dvořák) features quite the witch. We could also expand to devils and include Faust (Gounod) and Mefistofele (Boito). What did I miss? What are your favorite Halloween-appropriate operas?