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Mother Dearest: Opera’s most memorable mothers from the good, the bad and the outright evil

12th May 2019 |

When it comes to describing our mothers, most of us would use adjectives such as supportive, nurturing, kind and giving. However such descriptions don’t translate as well for mothers in the Operatic world. In fact, maternal characters in Opera are generally few and far between and whenever they do appear, they are usually wreaking havoc on their offspring. Despite their intentions, some of these Operatic mothers have left quite an impression on us and to celebrate Mothers’ Day we have compiled a list of some of Opera’s most memorable mothers, From the good, the bad and the outright evil!

The Good

Vixen (Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen)

From a young age the titular Vixen in Janacek’s Opera is depicted as a confident, independent and resourceful female character. Throughout the Opera She overcomes a number of obstacles on her own accord including defending herself against the Dog, escaping from the Forrester and even evicting a Badger from his own home. The Vixen retains her independence when she becomes a mother to several cubs. In the few scenes where we see the Vixen interact with her cubs, she seems fiercely protective of them as she cautiously guides them away from fox traps. Eventually, the Vixen is shot by the Forester, but her relationship with her cubs implies she was a strong provider and fierce leader making her one of Opera’s more likeable mothers.


Cio-Cio-San (Puccini’s Madama Butterfly)

Puccini’s leading lady, Cio-Cio-San is one of the more favourable mothers on this list. As delicate and fragile as her namesake suggests, Madama Butterfly doesn’t have an ounce of malice within her, but some could question her actions in the Opera’s closing moments. For three years, Butterfly has been waiting for her U.S. naval officer husband, Pinkerton to return to Japan, unbeknownst to him, Butterfly gave birth to their son and unbeknownst to her, Pinkerton has since remarried to an American woman. When Pinkerton’s ship returns to Japan, Butterfly excitedly prepares for the impending family reunion. In the few scenes where we see Butterfly interact with her young son Dolore, there is no doubt that she is a loving and caring mother who dotes on her son. However, in the closing moments of Act Three, Butterfly makes a few questionable decisions due to her heartache. After discovering, Pinkerton has since remarried and that he and his new wife plan to adopt Dolore and take him back to America, Butterfly willingly lets them take her son away and then takes her own life. Critics may question Butterfly’s decision to give up her son to a man that never cared for her and to a woman that she has only just met, but in terms of characteristics, there is no denying she was a genuinely loving and selfless mother.

The Bad

Queen Klytamnestra (Strauss’ Elektra)

Few family feuds are as complicated as Queen Klytamnestra’s in Strauss’ Elektra. The mother of four grows to resent her husband, King Agamemnon when he sacrifices their daughter Iphigenia to the Gods prior to the war against Troy. Overcome with hatred, the Queen and her lover murder the King but her three surviving children including Elektra grow to despise their mother. The Queen grows paranoid that her children will avenge their father and drives her son to exile and sends her surviving daughters to near madness. Klytamnestra’s motherly intuition wasn’t too far off though, because in the end she and her lover are murdered by her son. While the Queen showed some maternal affection for her eldest daughter, the fact that she drove her two daughters to near insanity and her son into exile makes her one of Opera’s more controversial mothers.

The Outright Evil

The Queen of the Night (Mozart’s The Magic Flute)

The Queen of Night is arguably one of Opera’s most memorable mothers, thanks to her monstrous appearance and her chilling Arias. When Prince Tamino falls for the beautiful Pamina he finds himself in the middle of a complicated family affair. Pamina’s mother, The Queen of the Night commands Tamino to rescue her daughter from the evil Sarastro who has kidnapped her. As the story progresses it becomes apparent that Sarastro is Pamina’s father and he did not kidnap her, instead it is revealed that it is the Queen of the Night that is keeping the young lovers apart. When The Queen’s plan falls through she gives her daughter a dagger and orders her to murder Sarastro, threatening to abandon her if she doesn’t succeed. In the end, the Queen’s plans are foiled and she is banished, Sarastro blesses Tamino and Pamina and the young lovers live happily ever after – no thanks to Pamina’s meddling mother. Considering The Queen of the Night attempted to murder her daughters’ lover and father makes her one of the more sinister Operatic mothers on this list.

Azucena (Verdi’s Il Trovatore) 

Azucena is the daughter of a gypsy woman who was burnt at the stake by the Count for bewitching his infant brother. To avenge her mother, Azucena kidnapped the Count’s infant brother and planned to throw him into the same flames where her mother died, but in a state of confusion, she throws her own child into the fire and kills him. While she didn’t intend to murder her own son, the fact that she willingly murdered an infant makes her one of Opera’s outright evil mothers. Need we say more?


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