Opera is probably the last thing anyone would think about when planning Halloween. However, for Classical music fans, there are quite a few terrifying operas that can be very enjoyable on the scariest night of the year.
Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth
With the exception of a few changes, Verdi’s Macbeth is quite faithful to Shakespeare’s original play. Witches, ghosts, and a fabulous sleepwalking scene combine to make a wonderful, and terrifying, two hours.
Hector Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust
The Damnation of Faust is one of the many operatic versions of Goethe’s classic story. Berlioz’s version, unlike Gounod’s, concentrates more on the terrifying aspects of the story rather than on the romantic.
The work actually premiered as a concert piece. The music is extremely expressive and, therefore, it is not necessary to see a staged performance to enjoy this really creepy opera.
Richard Strauss’ Elektra
Music critic Henry W. Simon once said “Elektra is not only a thriller; it is a shocker”. Richard Strauss’ 1909 opera, which is loosely based on the Greek legend of the siblings Electra and Orestes who violently murder their mother and step-father, has everything from homicidal maniacs to abusive parents to a horrifying murder sequence. If staged properly, Elektra can seem more like an old horror film than an opera.
The story is not the only shocking part of Elektra: Strauss’ music is positively terrifying! In fact, quite a few critics were rather disgusted by it when the work premiered.
Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw
Britten’s 1954 opera is, perhaps, not the best adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. However, the music is expressive, lush, and, at the same time, horrifying! This opera is perfect background music for anyone who wants thrills and chills. Try listening to this opera while reading James’ original story.
Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischutz
From the ominous first chord of the overture to the demonic, yet redemptive, ending, Der Freischutz is riveting and horrifying. The story is about a young man named Max who can only marry Agathe if he wins a shooting competition. Max’s friend, Caspar, offers to help, but only so he can deliver Max’s soul to the devil. The highlight of the opera is Act II, Scene II where Caspar and Max cast demonically possessed bullets in the terrifying Wolf’s Glen.
There are plenty of other operas that can be fun to listen to on Halloween. If staged, and sung, properly, Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman can certainly be a terrifying experience. Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, a story about the assassination of a ruler, has several scenes accompanied by creepy music. Be sure to check out Act I, Scene II where Ulrica, a kind of witch, tells fortunes and predicts the ruler’s death. Another creepy Verdi opera is La Forza del Destino or The Force of Destiny.
And, of course, you can’t get much creepier than Stephen Sondheim’s musical/opera Sweeney Todd.
Source: Naxos’ “The A to Z of Opera” Simon, Henry W. “100 Great Operas and their Stories”