Classical music’s greatest moustaches

12 November 2021

'Movember’, the season of moustache-growing is here again, so Welsh National Opera is taking a look at some of opera and classical music’s most memorable moustaches of past and present.

From Edward Elgar to Karl Jenkins, there are several famous faces in the world of classical music who we recognise for their unique facial hair, and the Adiemus composer Karl Jenkins is the king of the moustache in Wales. The composer, originally from Swansea, has created some exceptional works for both orchestra and chorus including The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, Cantata Memoria, and Lamentation. Karl Jenkins is renowned for being one of Wales’ most influential composers that has created works from a wide range of genres, from jazz music to rock and classical music, his moustache remains as memorable as his music! 

Across the continent in Italy was the famous Italian operatic composer, Giacomo Puccini who wrote what is considered as one of the most popular operas ever, Madam Butterfly. Puccini was recognised for his magnificent moustache and also for being a chain-smoker of cigars which eventually led to his death in 1924. Nevertheless, there is no denying that Puccini’s work especially in the world of opera was truly iconic, with his works including La bohème and Tosca. Turandot was the last opera he wrote before his death, which although not complete, included the famous aria Nessun Dorma.

Another Italian composer also sported a magnificent moustache was Ruggero Leoncavallo. Born in 1857, he composed Pagliacci (The Clowns) which is often performed as a double-bill with Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana.  Both these operas were performed at Welsh National Opera’s very first Season in 1947. He is still widely recognised today for Pagliacci, considered to be one of the most frequent works to be performed amongst operatic repertoires. WNO also celebrated our 75th year by recording a very special rendition of Easter Hymn from Cavalleria rusticana to commemorate our history from our origins in Llandaff, and WNO’s first ever performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

The renowned early Italian composer Monteverdi also wrote profound opera works such as L’ofero (1607) and L’Arianna (1608) and is known for being centuries ahead of his time. He is considered a revolutionary composer, marking the transition from early Renaissance music to the Baroque period, with his distinct use of harmony. Monteverdi certainly left his mark not only with his compositions, but a pretty remarkable moustache too! 

Czech composer Leoš Janáček is also another composer among those who had memorable moustaches along with great musical compositions. As an early 20th century composer, his works range from choral to operatic works, including what is considered to be his greatest and most dramatic opera Jenůfa around 1896. His other works include The Cunning Little VixenFrom the House of the Dead and Sinfonietta, with his later works being most celebrated. WNO returns next Spring with a production of Jenůfa.