How’s your Valentine’s Day going? No sign of that card yet? Still waiting for that bouquet of flowers or box of chocolates to be delivered? Join us as we take a cynical look at love, delving into the ever so slightly unhinged world of stalkers and obsessives. Love can do crazy things to people… Enjoy! (Still a believer in true love and romance? Click here.)

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Separation by Edvard Munch
© Public domain

1Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique

So you go to the theatre and fall in love with the leading actress? Nothing unusual there. But do you take lodgings in an apartment that overlooks hers just to be near her? Or write a symphony in which “the artist” is so obsessed with his muse that he takes an opium overdose and imagines her dancing on his grave at a witches’ sabbath? That’s just what Hector Berlioz did to Irish actress Harriet Smithson. But guess what? It worked. Harriet married Berlioz in 1833 (not that we should be condoning this unorthodox approach...) [Mark]

2Mozart: Così fan tutte

You have to give it to Fiordiligi and Dorabella, they manage the entire first act before falling for the handsome strangers and their fake “mustacchi”. After their initial resistance, the sisters decide they may enjoy little flirtation, Dorabella choosing the dark one, because he looks more fun. A woman’s heart might be fickle, but do we need to mention that the men abandon their lovers, break their trust and each seduces their fiancée’s sister (as you do)?! A case of “così fan tutti” – All do it (not just the women)! [Elisabeth]

3Tchaikovsky: Finale from Eugene Onegin

What are we to do with arch-cynic, Eugene Onegin? Tatyana pours out her love for him in a passionate letter, which he politely declines, explaining he’s not the marrying kind. So far, so good. But then, several years later, Onegin meets Tatyana again – only this time she is married to a prince. Guess what? He immediately falls for her (a case of forbidden fruit?) and writes his own ardent letter. In a desperate final encounter, he begs her to love him. Although Tatyana still holds a candle for him, she remains faithful to her husband. In this steamy clip from The Met, Anna Netrebko enjoys a lingering farewell kiss with Mariusz Kwiecień... [Mark]

4Janáček: String Quartet no. 2, “Intimate Letters”

Leoš Janáček gave his Second String Quartet the nickname "Intimate Letters" because it was inspired by his obsessive love for Kamila Stösslová, with whom he exchanged some 700 letters. Kamila was married and 38 years his junior, although there’s no suggestion that Janáček’s feelings were ever reciprocated. [Mark]

5Verdi: “La donna e mobile” (Rigoletto)

Honestly, are men trying to deflect their own faults by blaming the women? As far as the Duke is concerned in Rigoletto, women should be thankful if he pays them any attention at all, and should be flattered when he gives them a second glance… or more. In his aria “La donna è mobile” the Duke blames the woman for being fickle – but what about him? Do we need Leporello’s Catalogue Aria here?!! [Elisabeth]

6Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin, D.795

Unrequited love is hard, but par for the course if you happen to be one of Schubert’s poets. Our young journeyman falls in love with the beautiful and out-of-his-reach miller’s daughter. She does show some affection towards him at first, but soon runs off with the green-clad hunter. The poet becomes obsessed with the masculinity depicting the colour green and soon has a death wish to end all his sorrows. In Die böse Farbe, he wants to go out into the world, if only it weren’t so green, “I’d like to weep the green grass; As pale as death with my tears.” [Elisabeth]

7Monteverdi: “Pur ti miro” (L'incoronazione di Poppea)

If ever a couple deserved each other, it’s Nero and Poppea in Monteverdi’s L'incoronazione di Poppea. By the end, there’s a lot of blood on their hands, as Poppea manoeuvres her way to the role of empress. Despite being such despicable characters, their rapturous final duet is one of the sexiest in all opera, with its crushing harmonies and vocal lines that coil around each other. [Mark]

8Wagner: Lohengrin

Confession: I’m Team Ortrud. Yes, she has selfish reasons to persuade Elsa to ask the question of all questions, but just imagine you go for home for Christmas and tell your family and friends that you’ve met a guy (who arrived by swan), you’re about to marry him and yet, you still don't even know his name. My dad would tell me to at least sign a prenup and my mum would take me aside, questioning if it was true love (or, in fact, emotional blackmail and dependence). Here, Elsa finally asks for his name and let’s just say, Lohengrin is not too thrilled. [Elisabeth]

9Ysaÿe: “Obsession” from Violin Sonata no. 2

The virtuosic first movement of Eugene Ysaÿe’s Second Sonata for solo violin is a study in obsession, repeatedly quoting both the prelude from Bach’s Third Partita and the Dies irae chant, the plainchant associated with the Mass for the Dead. Demonic? Just a bit. [Mark]

10Bizet: “La fleur que tu m'avais jetée” (Carmen)

If only Don José paid more attention to the text of Carmen’s Habanera: “Love is a rebellious bird; That none can tame… If I love you, be on your guard!” At the end, she throws a flower at him. In the Flower Song, José tells Carmen, in quite an obsessive way, how the scent of this flower, the thought of her and the promise of being with her was the only thing that kept him going during his imprisonment, “To see you again, O Carmen, yes, see you again!” No wonder Carmen tried to steer clear. [Elisabeth]

Bonus track – Wagner: Wesendonck-Lieder

For the ultimate obsessive – bonus points for being a bastard – look no further than Richard Wagner. According to him, every artist has the right to have a muse, in his case Mathilde Wesendonck. Never mind that her husband supported Wagner financially and hosted the Wagner family at the time, or that Wagner was still married to Minna. Träume was first performed on the morning of Mathilde’s 29th birthday, at her husband’s villa, and I can’t imagine Otto being too thrilled about it (or indeed the steamy texts). Not convinced yet? A scenario summing up the strange atmosphere in the house could be an evening in September 1857 when the conductor Hans von Bülow came to visit with his new wife, Cosima (Liszt’s illegitimate daughter). That evening, Wagner read the party his Tristan libretto, and the audience included his wife Minna, his current romantic interest Mathilde, and Cosima, with whom he would later have two children while she was still married to von Bülow. [Elisabeth]