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Fathers in Opera

14 June 2019

Opera has quite the list of famous fathers, and unlike the mothers, who are often portrayed negatively; fathers come in all shapes and sizes. Today we explore our favourite fathers whether they are the greatest role models or not. 

Verdi has a ton of father figures and it is impossible to ignore his most famed, the court jester Rigoletto, whose fierce desire to protect his daughter is his undoing. A bitter man, who spares no one his insults, Rigoletto’s harsh tongue is replaced with an overwhelming and tender care for his secret daughter Gilda, whom he keeps hidden from public. His action, although done with her best intentions in mind, hinder her development and makes her more vulnerable to external forces. In his quest for retribution, Rigoletto ends up losing the one person he loves the most in the world.

Boris Godunov
‘Who are you abandoning us to, father?’ Boris Godunov is one of the most dramatically rewarding bass-baritone roles: a noble ruler who loves his children (Xenia and Fyodor) and his people, but whose thirst for power has led him to commit a terrible crime. Expressing the deep tragedy of his soul, Boris begs his daughter to forget her grief and tells his son to continue with his studies as one day, he will be the mighty Tsar of Russia. In a fit of hallucination, Boris is haunted by his crime and raises his hand to his God begging for forgiveness and delivers a long and final soliloquy (‘I have attained supreme power’).

A young woman is dressed in a wedding gown, with the silhouette of a cathedral in the background.

Les vêpres siciliennes
As a young man, Guy de Montfort in Verdi’s Les Vêpres sicilliennes raped a Sicilian woman who later bore his child. Years on, lonely and troubled by his past actions, Montfort realises that the young Sicilian patriot Henri is his son. By now, Montfort regrets bitterly what he did to Henri’s mother and longs to befriend his child but Henri has been brought up to hate all Frenchmen, particularly his mother’s abuser. In Act III of the opera, Montfort reveals his identity to Henri in one of Verdi’s great duets (‘Quand ma bonté toujours nouvelle’). Torn between his duty to the Sicilians (and his lover Hélène) and his feelings for his father, what will become of this reunion?

Don Giovanni
Another father whose presence (or lack thereof) looms large throughout the opera, the Commendatore sets the entire plot in motion in this Mozart classic. In the opening scene of the opera, the Commendatore challenges the infamous Don Giovanni to a duel, who has been attempting to seduce his daughter. The Commendatore does not survive the encounter, but later returns as a statue to cast judgement on his murderer. We don’t really get much of his dynamics with Donna Anna, but from her grief, we can get the sense that there was deep devotion, if not affection, from the young lady to her father.

Germont stands behind Alfredo, who is sitting in a chair, hands clasped.

La traviata
The final Verdi father on this list. Germont’s actions are done with his children’s well-being in mind. His entire encounter with Violetta revolves around one thing – seeing that his son avoids a life of debauchery and gossip. His most famous musical passages, whether it be ‘Pura si come un angelo’ or ‘Di provenza il mar’, revolve around his love for his child. But we also see him as a father willing to call out his child on his mistakes and his famous moment that launches the concertato is undeniably one example of a man who can’t stand to see his own child behave with immaturity in public.