The archetypal operatic death can be a protracted affair: sopranos dying slowly from consumption, which attacks the lungs but miraculously doesn’t impede their ability to spin a beautiful legato; or tenors who shoot themselves in despair, but take a whole act to actually die. But operas contain their fair share of dramatic deaths too, which gave editors Mark and Elisabeth chance to wrestle over the best methods of dispatching characters from the operatic stage.

1Puccini: Tosca (Stabbing)

Baron Scarpia is writing the safe-conduct at his desk, when Tosca catches a glimpse of the knife on the dining table and realises that there may be another way out for her. Confident of claiming his prize, Scarpia approaches Tosca, but she turns around and thanks him with a “kiss”.

Maria Callas’ look when she stabs Tito Gobbi sends shivers down your spine in this classic film from Covent Garden (and is a very useful GIF). [Elisabeth]

 

2Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites (Guillotine)

Few composers kill off more characters in one scene that Francis Poulenc does at the end of his Dialogues des Carmélites, yet few death scenes are quite as poignant. It’s France 1794 and the Reign of Terror is in full swing. The Carmelite nuns of Compiègne refused to renounce their vocation and chose to face the guillotine. They slowly mount the scaffold, singing the Salve Regina, joined by the young heroine of the opera, Blanche. One by one, the blade falls… a chilling scene. [Mark]

 

3Mozart: Don Giovanni (Dragged down to hell)

The sextet at the end of Mozart’s opera agrees: Don Giovanni got what he deserved. After seducing and breaking the hearts of – according to Leporello – thousands of women and killing Donna Anna’s father, the Commendatore, he’s dragged down to hell by a statue of his victim. [Elisabeth]

 

4Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Poisoned mushrooms)

I love a mushroom stroganoff as much as the next person, but even my stomach turns queasy when thinking about the fate of Boris in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Okay, Katerina’s sleazy father-in-law is a suitable candidate for a grisly death, but rat poison sprinkled over his mushrooms? [Mark]

 

5Halévy: La Juive (Thrown into a cauldron of boiling water)

Jews Eléazar and his “daughter” Rachel are sentenced to death via a cauldron of boiling water at the end of Fromental Halévy’s opera. Just before it is carried out, in a dramatic plot twist, Eléazar reveals to his adversary Cardinal Brogni that Rachel is in fact his daughter. Cue the flames… [Mark]

 

6Wagner: Götterdämmerung (Immolated)

Brünnhilde certainly doesn’t have the easiest of lives: sent to sleep by her father; betrayed by her rescuer and lover (and nephew); yet alone growing up with eight noisy sisters. However, with her immolation, Wagner bestows the grandest of all finales in the operatic repertoire on her (at least in my opinion). She remembers the dead hero, Siegfried, returns the Ring to the Rhinemaidens and sets Valhalla on fire, fulfilling Alberich’s curse. [Elisabeth]

 

7Massenet: Cléopâtre (Bitten by a snake)

Everyone knows how Cleo bites the dust, clutching an asp to her breast after Mark Anthony falls on his sword. Massenet’s opera is unjustly neglected but contains some great music before her serpent-induced suicide. [Mark]

 

8Puccini: Madama Butterfly (Slits her own throat)

Not many operas leave you behind as devastated as Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Three cherry blossoms have passed since Pinkerton had left Cio-Cio San. But on his return he only agrees to see Butterfly after she promises to give up her son to him. Deprived of her will to live, she slits her own throat. [Elisabeth]

 

9Catalani: La Wally (Avalanche)

The are unimaginative deaths on the opera stage (stabbings, beheadings), slightly more obscure ones (bitten by a snake, dragged down to hell) and then there is death by an avalanche. Hagenbach has recovered from his injuries and confesses his love to Wally who has climbed into the mountains. Little does he know that his singing sets off an avalanche that buries him, leaving behind a desperate Wally who kills herself by leaping into the avalanche as well. [Elisabeth]

 

10Rameau: Les Indes galantes (Crushed by burning rocks from a volcano)

Some composers don’t really help themselves when it comes to having their characters die in epic natural disasters. In The Incas of Peru in Rameau’s opera-ballet Les Indes galantes, the jealous Inca priest Huascar swears revenge on a young couple of lovers, causing a volcanic eruption which results in him being crushed by a flaming rock. Ouch! [Mark]

 

Sadly, the deaths of Andrea Chénier and Maddalena by guillotine didn't quite make the cut (sorry!) but we couldn't resist adding it anyway, especially for Jonas Kaufmann's head!