Opera is a depiction of life’s most emotional and extreme moments played out and exposed fully on stage.

The beautiful moments of joy and romance are often set against the challenges of reality, like illness, violence, and death. Some of this content can be challenging to watch for some opera patrons, as we bring our own experiences to how we receive art and media. We recognize that it is not possible to anticipate every component of a story that might be difficult for someone, but we believe it is worthwhile to provide information to help identify common areas of sensitivity.  

Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 
Based on the story of the legendary Spanish rake, Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Don Juan) is a dramma giocoso, or a comedic drama. Considered one of Mozart’s finest works, the opera is filled with elements of comedic relief in the story and the music, but the characters endure hardships in violence, assault, death, and emotional loss.

Areas of sensitivity: 

  • Implied/attempted rape 
  • Sexual harassment/assault 
  • Nudity 
  • Discordant power balance/abuse of power 
  • Violence/staged murder of the Commendatore 
  • The piece takes a dark, satirical view of sexual intimacy 

The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini 
This comic opera follows the love story of two young people caught in a love triangle. Full of wit and clamoring, the story and the music are meant to please and delight.

Areas of sensitivity: 

  • Discordant power balance/abuse of power, played for comedy  

El último sueño de Frida y Diego by Gabriela Lena Frank 
A fictional story about a final meeting between Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera, this opera brings the audience in and out of an underworld and spiritual existence.

Areas of sensitivity: 

  • References to the turbulent, abusive relationship of the title characters 
  • Chorus is depicted as archetypes from Mexican history and culture (in general, each of these characters are identified by specific name, rather than category or type.) 
  • Nudity 
  • Religious/spiritual themes  

Highway 1, USA by William Grant Still and The Dwarf by Alexander Zemlinsky 
Two powerful one-act operas. Highway 1, USA is the story of a hardworking couple and their increasingly dangerous relationship with a family member. The Dwarf, based on Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Birthday of the Infanta”, is a story of a man abused and isolated because of his appearance.

Highway 1, USA Areas of sensitivity: 

  • Violence/stabbing 

The Dwarf Areas of sensitivity: 

  • The physical attributes of the title character are used as a source of subjugation, mockery, and scorn. 
  • The title character has a hump, facial scarring and a limp
  • The title character is “owned” by the royal family; he is a birthday gift for the Infanta 

La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi 
One of Verdi’s most well-known operas, La Traviata is the story of a Parisian courtesan who falls in love with a young nobleman. They are ultimately separated by her illness as well as pressures from society and family, with a heartbreaking ending.

Areas of sensitivity: 

  • Violetta’s health worsens over the course of the story, and at the end she dies onstage. Some singers choose to depict this health condition through onstage coughing. 
  • An irreverent portrayal of a clergy member is the character of the “Naughty Cardinal.” 

Turandot by Giacomo Puccini 
Set in legendary times, Turandot is about a princess (Turandot) who requires that all suitors answer three riddles, and failure results in their swift and public deaths. The opera features arguably the most famous tenor aria, “Nessun Dorma,” as the audience awaits the final judgement of Turandot’s next suitor.

Areas of sensitivity: 

  • Execution; torture 
  • Suicide