Opera: Marian Presence

The following text represents an in-depth, but partial study of the figure of Mary in opera. The author wrote this paper based on his extended knowledge of operatic music and sound academic research. In particular, the text as published here did not include the typology explaining the different forms or modes of Mary’s presence or presentations in the various operas studied. The descriptive elements given by the author amply highlight the nature of Mary’s presence in each operatic work. – Fr. Johann G. Roten, S.M.

Opera and Mary

– Richard Lenar

Opera. The word can bring to mind a series of images – portly prima donnas, helmets with horns, and sobbing tenors. Performances can go on for hours and bring the audience to exhaustion. In most cases, the endings are tragic as a principal character dies from murder, sickness or even suicide.

Beyond these stereotypes, however, one finds with closer examination of the operatic repertoire a rather different and quite diverse world. For example, not all operas are dark and unhappy – some are comedies, while others deal with historical events, nationalistic themes or even forms of redemption. Recent operas may examine contemporary issues, such as discrimination or capital punishment.

At first glance, it may appear unlikely that the Blessed Virgin Mary can be connected with the operatic world, but in fact operas contain a wealth of references to her. The underlying reason for this presence of Mary derives from the nature of the operatic art form. A successful opera effectively combines music, text and visual arts in a multi-faceted presentation. Marian references can occur under each of those aspects - the music may be a setting of a Marian prayer or antiphon, the opera’s libretto may refer to Mary in order to propel forward the dramatic action, or the scenery may contain Marian imagery or iconography. In a few cases, Mary is even a member of the opera’s cast.

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