A classical Halloween playlist

31 October 2023

When you think of Halloween, ‘Opera’ probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind… but this spooky season, we’re here to change that. From cats to witches to iconic movies, Welsh National Opera has covered it all. Let’s countdown our top five classical pieces to add to your Halloween playlists. 

Verdi’s Macbeth is an opera based on the Shakespeare tragedy of the same nameIt tells the story of Macbeth’s bloody ascent to the throne of Scotland, supported by his wife’s own ambitions, which results in disaster for them both. The opera reflects Verdi’s preoccupation with themes of freedom and tyranny, and broke new ground in musical terms.  

The classic fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, was given the opera treatment by Englebert Humperdinck and Welsh National Opera’s production is a deliciously dark interpretation of the beloved story, last performed our 2013/2014 Season. After stumbling across a house made of gingerbread in the forest, and eating chunks from it, Hansel and Gretel fall under an evil witch’s spell and must use all their guile and trickery to avoid a horrific fate.

You can’t have witches without a trusty familiar nearby, and there's no better way to celebrate cats in classical music than with Rossini’s Cat Duet (Duetto buffo di due gatti - Humorous duet for two cats). This was written as a performance piece for two sopranos and piano and consists entirely of the repeated word miau ("meow") sung by the singers.

There’s not much scarier than out of control housework, so Paul Dukas’ piece that accompanies the untameable brooms and mop buckets of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice earns a place on our playlist. This is the only piece of music that featured in both the 1940 and 2000 versions of Disney’s Fantasia. In the 2000 version, the scene is introduced by world renowned magicians Penn & Teller and, as in the 1940 movie, tells the story of Mickey Mouse battling an army of broomsticks that have come to life as he tries to regain control of his magical abilities. 

In the Hall of the Mountain King is a piece of orchestral music composed by Edvard Grieg in 1875 for Henrik Ibsen's 1867 play Peer Gynt. Over the music, trolls and imps sing of slaying ‘The Christian man's son’ and wanting to ‘bite him in the haunches’ after he ‘has seduced the fairest maid of the Mountain King’. It is one of the most recognisable pieces of music and has been used in film and TV, such as House MD and Mad Men, and has been sampled and covered by many artists, including The Who, The Offspring and even The Wombles. It is also well known for being the theme tune for Alton Towers as the theme park has repeatedly used the music since 1992 with the opening of the Haunted House.  

Hopefully, our Chorus and Orchestra have got you in the mood for Halloween and have given you some ideas for your own spooky playlists.