PLAYLIST - Alcohol, drunkenness, and inebriation in opera and operetta

Drunkenness on the lyrical stage can be funny, enjoyable, menacing, and perhaps even sad... Here are seven airs from the lyrical repertoire revealing the different facets of inebriation in opera and operetta.

PLAYLIST - Alcohol, drunkenness, and inebriation in opera and operetta
PLAYLIST - Inebriation in opera and operetta, © Getty / Erich Auerbach

1. "Ah! Quel dîner" - La Périchole, Jacques Offenbach

It is about an "extraordinary wine" that sings La Périchole in Offenbach's "opéra bouffe" La Périchole. She admits that the wine has gone to her head and that he is "a little tipsy" as she prepares to marry her lover Piquillo, equally merry and inebriated. In the final air of the first act of Offenbach's operetta, the performer is free to play the drunkard as they wish, hiccupping and swaying, in the grand style of a light and musically-inspired Offenbach.

2. The champagne song - Die Fledermaus, Johann Strauss II

"I sing to the king fermented", sings the prince Orlofsky at the end of the second of Die Fledermaus, operetta by Johann Strauss II. As he raises his glass, he confesses that the only remedy against boredom is the joyous and liberating pleasure of alcohol. Cheers!

3. "Intanto, amici, qua…Viva il vino spumeggiante" - Cavalleria Rusticana, Pietro Mascagni

Though the invitation to celebrate in honour of the vino spumante, a sparkling wine, is filled with the warm and familiar sensations of Sicily, the celebrations never take place. In Pietro Mascagni's most famous example of verismo opera, passion and jealousy put an end to the frivolities and joyous atmosphere: a menacing inebriation, foreshadowing later misfortunes.

4. The champagne aria, "Fin ch’han dal vino calda la testa" - Don Giovanni, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Don Giovanni is not thirsting for champagne as he sings the famous Champagne aria, but rather sexual conquests: "Now prepare a great feast, until the wine makes all heads reel". He asks Leporello to bring him all the young girls he meets to dance and drink until their heads reel, thereby making them all the easier to seduce. "Ah ! By tomorrow morning my list should be another ten to the good", he concludes with a malicious laugh.

5. "Libiamo ne’lieti calici" - La Traviata, Giuseppe Verdi

Alfredo celebrates the joy of life with a rhythmic waltz, exclaiming in French: "Buvons joyeusement de ces coupes" ("Let us drink from the joyous chalices"). Besotted with the hostess Violetta, he lives only in the moment for the pleasure of the embrace, and the love of wine... The pleasure, however, is short-lived, as revealed by the later tragic events of Verdi's famous opera. Though undoubtedly one of Verdi's most famous Brindisi (drinking songs), it is not the one that sparked an entire genre...

6.  "Si colmi il calice" - Macbeth, Giuseppe Verdi

It was with Macbeth, his first opera inspired by Shakespeare, that Verdi firmly introduced the genre of the Brindisi drinking songs to the world of opera. A wicked couple and a macabre story: amidst various plots and assassinations, the power-hungry and newly crowned queen Lady Macbeth proclaims: "Fill the cup with the choicest wine. Give life to pleasure and death to sorrow"... the calm before the storm. The diabolical couple are ultimately incapable of escaping their fate, a long and slow descent into the depths of hell. 

7. "To pivečko" - La Fiancée vendue, Bedřich Smetana

Wine, champagne, spumante...there's one final beverage that cannot be left out! In Czech Republic, Bedřich Smetana sang the praises of the national beverage: beer. In this air from The Bartered Bride, the Czech composer's most popular opera, the amber nectar is portrayed as a gift from the Gods.