1. La traviataComposer: Giuseppe Verdi
Famous Aria: Sempre Libera
Verdi's La traviata was first performed on March 6, 1853, in Venice's La Fenice opera house. Though the opera was a definite success, throughout its premiere, members of the audience objected quite vocally to the soprano cast as Violetta. Apparently, they were not happy that such an "old" singer (she was 38), and overweight at that, was cast as the young woman dying from consumption. Read the synopsis of La Traviata.
2. CarmenComposer: Georges Bizet
Famous Aria: Habanera
This provocative opera has been entrancing audiences from all over the globe since its premiere in Paris' Opéra-Comique on March 3, 1875. Its iconic aria, listed above, has been featured in countless films, television programs, commercials, and more, including Sesame Street's famous stop-motion animation of a singing orange. Read the synopsis of Carmen.
3. La bohèmeComposer: Giacomo Puccini
Famous Aria: Mi chiamano Mimi
Puccini's La Boheme is chock full of great music. There are other fantastic arias other than "Mi chiamano Mimi" including "Che gelida manina", an aria made increasingly more popular by Luciano Pavarotti and his plethora of recordings. La Boheme's story is centered on the lives of two Bohemian men and their girlfriends living in 1830s Paris. And like many operas, its a story of love, jealousy, confusion, love again, and death.
Famous Aria: Der Hölle Rache
Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) was first performed at the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna on September 30, 1791. Mozart, himself, conducted the orchestra. There weren't many reviews of the first performances, but just a little over a year later, the opera had been performed 100 times to crowds of great numbers. Mozart's opera is actually one of my favorites, and even more so after finding this amazing performance of The Queen of the Night's famous aria "Der Hölle Rache" by Diana Damrau. Read the synopsis of Die Zauberflöte.
5. ToscaComposer: Giacomo Puccini
Famous Aria: Vissi d'Arte
In late 2001, The Metropolitan Opera's production of Puccini's Tosca was the first opera I had ever seen. I was just a teenager from a small town in Missouri having just moved to the east coast to attend music school. Let me just say, it was incredible. Tosca is a dramatic opera that when performed just right can make you shed a few tears. Its famous aria "Vissi d'Arte" is the most well-known song from the opera, made largely popular by the great soprano, Maria Callas. Read the synopsis of Tosca.
Famous Aria: Un bel di, vedremo
Puccini's Madama Butterfly premiered at Milan's famed theatre, La Scala, on February 17, 1904. Though it began as two acts, through a series of five revisions, the opera that is performed today is in three acts. Given that there was hardly any rehearsal time at the premier performance, unsurprisingly, Madama Butterfly was poorly received. Thankfully, Puccini didn't give up on the opera and continued to revise it. After splitting the second act into two, as well as having more rehearsal time under their belts, the revised versions were hugely successful - as you can see, it takes the number 6 spot on this list. Read the synopsis of Madama Butterfly.
Famous Aria: Un bel di, vedremo
Despite the first performance of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia on February 20, 1816, at London's Kings Theatre falling flat on its face, thanks to an audience loyal to rival composer, Giovanni Paisiello, Rossini's opera has become one of the world's most famous comic operas. Its farcical story full of disguises and deceptions tells the story of two men wanting to marry the same woman. Read the synopsis of Il barbiere di Siviglia.
Famous Aria: Largo al factotum
Since both works were inspired by plays written by Pierre Beaumarchais, it's not shocking to see Mozart's opera, Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) following Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia on this list. Mozart's opera, though written thirty years prior to Rossini's, is actually a continuation of events taking place after Rossini's opera. Read the synopsis of Le nozze di Figaro .
9. RigolettoComposer: Giuseppe Verdi
Famous Aria: La donna e mobile
Verdi's Rigoletto is considered by many opera aficionados to be among his best operas. Of the twenty-eight operas Verdi composed, he once said in a letter that this one was revolutionary. During its creation, the opera went through tough censorship as some critics considered its content offensive to the public. Thankfully, Verdi proceeded to premier the opera anyway and it was a huge success. Read the synopsis of Rigoletto.
10. Don GiovanniComposer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Famous Aria: La ci darem la mano
Mozart's Don Giovanni premiered in Prague's Teatro di Praga on October 29, 1787. The opera is based on various Don Juan legends which makes for some exciting content. Throughout the opera, Mozart artfully mixes both comedic and dramatic scenes which makes this opera a well-rounded form of entertainment. Read the synopsis of Don Giovanni.