March 03, 2021

Happy go lucky

The luckiest characters in opera

When you think of the dramatic rescues that come a moment too late or misunderstandings that lead to madness and murder, it's easy to write off most opera characters as profoundly unfortunate. There are, however, a lucky few who seem to have found the secret to not only surviving the final curtain, but prospering—even if their own luck may spell doom for another character (deserving or not). We'd like to share our list of some of the luckiest characters in opera. Let us know if you agree!

Nemorino (The Elixir of Love)

When we first meet Nemorino in Donizetti's The Elixir of Love, he's a bit down on his luck. Willing to try anything, he spends the last of his money on a love potion sold by a traveling quack doctor. While the "potion" (cheap wine) is far from magical, it gives him the confidence to woo Adina. When Adina accepts another man's marriage proposal, Nemorino signs up for the army, using the signing bonus to buy more "potion." Adina realizes her mistake, buys back his army contract and the couple confess their love. The icing on the cake? Nemorino miraculously inherits a large fortune from his uncle.

Giuseppe Filianoti as Nemorino in Lyric's 2009/10 production of Donizetti's The Elixir of Love.

Lauretta (Gianni Schicchi)

In Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, Lauretta wins the day thanks to her quick-thinking father and a little bit of good luck. When the wealthy Buoso Donati dies, his family is shocked that he has left all of his money to the monastery. Rinuccio, a poor relation, gains permission from his uncle to marry Lauretta, but only if Buoso has left them rich. When they realize the contents of the will, Rinuccio is convinced that Gianni Schicchi will have a solution to their problem. The family initially rebukes Schicchi, but quickly jumps on board with his plan to move the body and pretend to be Buoso in order to write a new will. When the notary arrives, Schicchi impersonates Buoso and dictates the new will, allocating minor bequests to each family member and leaving the bulk of Buoso's property—the mule, the house, and the mills—to his "devoted friend Gianni Schicchi." His new relatives may not be pleased, but with Schicchi's newfound wealth, Lauretta and Rinuccio are able to not only marry but live in style.

Arturo (I puritani)

In Bellini's I puritani, luck seems to be consistently on Arturo's side. Even though his Royalist ties make him the political enemy of her family, he is granted permission to marry his beloved Elvira. When he frees Queen Henrietta (widow of the executed King Charles I, who was being held as a prisoner by the Puritans), Elvira is driven to madness, thinking her love has run off with another woman. Arturo is able to get the Queen to safety and when he returns to Elvira's side, she returns to her senses. In another massive stroke of luck, just as he is about to be sentenced to death, Cromwell's victory is announced and all political prisoners are pardoned, clearing the way for Arturo and Elvira to marry.

Lawrence Brownlee as Arturo and Albina Shagimuratova as Elivra in Lyric's 2017/18 production of Bellini's I puritani.

Linceo and Hipermestra (Hipermestra)

In Cavalli's rarely performed Baroque opera Hipermestra, the odds were not in Linceo's favor. He is the only survivor among 50 brothers murdered by their brides on their wedding nights. His wife, Hipermestra, has fallen in love with him and told him her father's evil plans. Linceo is able to flee and begins to rally an army. Hipermestra is imprisoned by her father for her betrayal, and through a series of misunderstandings, believes Linceo no longer loves her. She throws herself from a tower, but luckily survives and the couple live happily ever after.

Norina (Don Pasquale)

While many characters in Donizetti's Don Pasquale get a happy ending, Norina is particularly lucky. Unable to marry the man she loves after he is disowned by his buffoonish uncle, Don Pasqaule, Norina plans to get even with the older man. Pretending to be his doctor's beautiful young sister, "Sofronia," she marries Don Pasquale in a mock ceremony. As soon as his fortune is signed over to his new "wife," Norina/Sofronia drops her timid façade and begins racking up bills and acting scandalously. Don Pasquale's doctor ultimately convinces him that the only way to get rid of his unwanted wife is to allow his nephew Ernesto to marry Norina, a woman "Sofronia" is said to despise. He immediately reinstates Ernesto's inheritance and grants the couple permission to marry. Sofronia's true identity is revealed and Don Pasquale accepts the situation with unexpected good humor and gives the couple his blessing.

Marlis Petersen as Norina/Sofronio and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo in the title role of Lyric's 2012/13 production of Don Pasquale.

Idomeneo (Idomeneo)

While this tortured Mozartian hero may not seem like an obvious choice, the opera begins with King Idomeneo thanking his lucky stars (and Neptune, god of the sea), for saving his life following a shipwreck. And, for a while, that seems to be where his luck runs out. In exchange for his life, he vowed to sacrifice the first man he comes across, who just so happens to be his own son Idamante. With Crete under siege by a ferocious sea monster, Idamante bravely accepts his fate. Just as the blade is about to fall, Neptune's voice echoes through the hall, decreeing that Idamante can live as long as the King steps aside to let his son rule Crete with his beloved, Ilia. The young couple pledge their love as Idomeneo passes his crown to his sole heir.

Honorable mentions:
Papageno (The Magic Flute)

No matter how bumbling, this beloved bird catcher always seems to stumble into the right place at the right time. He also finds love with Papagena thanks to a set of magic bells—lucky, indeed!

Hansel and Gretel (Hansel and Gretel)

When two hungry children get lost in the woods and come upon a house made of candy, they think it's their lucky day. Oops, not so much. In fact, the luckiest moment arrives when they trick the witch and escape the gruesome fate of being baked into gingerbread cookies, liberating already-baked cookie-children, and reuniting with their parents.


Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)

Through an utterly convoluted series of events, Figaro finds his parents after years of searching, escapes an unwanted marriage (and repaying a loan), gets even with his boss, and marries the love of his life—all in the course of one day. He seems to have luck on his side.


Iolanta (Iolanta)

Her blindness is miraculously cured, she falls in love, her father allows her to marry the man of her choosing, and no one dies in the end—sounds pretty lucky to us!

Header photo: Adam Plachetka as Papageno with the three genies in Lyric's 2016/17 production of Mozart's The Magic Flute. Credit: Lyric Opera of Chicago

All other photos: Dan Rest, Lyric Opera of Chicago