List of prominent operas

Since the origins of opera in late 16th century Italy, a central repertoire has developed, shepherded by major opera composers. The earliest major opera composer is generally considered to be Claudio Monteverdi, who wrote the first prominent opera, L'Orfeo, followed by two others. Throughout the later 17th century, his successor Francesco Cavalli and the Englishman Henry Purcell wrote numerous prominent operas. The early 18th century was dominated by the operas of George Frideric Handel, while other important works include Pepusch's The Beggar's Opera, Pergolesi's' La serva padrona, and various works by Jean-Philippe Rameau

This list provides a guide to the most prominent operas, as determined by their presence on a majority of selected compiled lists, which date from between 1984 and 2000. The operas included cover all important genres, and include all operas regularly performed today, from seventeenth-century works to late twentieth-century operas. The brief accompanying notes offer an explanation as to why each opera has been considered important. The organisation of the list is by year of first performance, or, if this was long after the composer's death, approximate date of composition.


  • 1607 L'Orfeo (Claudio Monteverdi). Widely regarded as the first operatic masterwork.
  • 1640 Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (Monteverdi). Monteverdi's first opera for Venice, based on Homer's Odyssey, displays the composer's mastery of portrayal of genuine individuals as opposed to stereotypes.
  • 1642 L'incoronazione di Poppea (Monteverdi). Monteverdi's last opera, composed for a Venetian audience, is often performed today. Its Venetian context helps to explain the complete absence of the moralizing tone often associated with opera of this time.
  • 1644 Ormindo (Francesco Cavalli). One of the first of Cavalli's operas to be revived in the 20th century, Ormindo is considered one of his more attractive works.
  • 1649 Giasone (Cavalli). In Giasone Cavalli, for the first time, separated aria and recitative. Giasone was the most popular opera of the 17th century.
  • 1651 La Calisto (Cavalli). Ninth of the eleven operas that Cavalli wrote with Faustini is noted for its satire of the deities of classical mythology.
  • 1683 Dido and Aeneas (Henry Purcell). Often considered to be the first genuine English-language operatic masterwork. Not first performed in 1689 at a girls' school, as is commonly believed, but at Charles II's court in 1683.
  • 1692 The Fairy-Queen (Purcell). A semi-opera rather than a genuine opera, this is often thought to be Purcell's finest dramatic work.


George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner, 1733
  • 1710 Agrippina (Handel). Handel's last opera that he composed in Italy was a great success, and established his reputation as a composer of Italian opera.
  • 1711 Rinaldo (Handel). Handel's first opera for the London stage was also the first all-Italian opera performed on the London stage.
  • 1724 Giulio Cesare (Handel). Noted for the richness of its orchestration.
  • 1724 Tamerlano (Handel). Described by Anthony Hicks, writing in Grove Music Online, as possessing a "taut dramatic power".
  • 1725 Rodelinda (Handel). Rodelinda is often praised[by whom?] for the fullness of the melodic writing among Handel's output.
  • 1728 The Beggar's Opera (Johann Christoph Pepusch). A satire of Italian opera seria based on a play by John Gay, the ballad opera format of The Beggar's Opera has proved popular even up to the current time.
  • 1731 Acis and Galatea (Handel). Handel's only work for the theatre that is set to an English libretto.
  • 1733 Orlando (Handel). An opera that is described by Anthony Hicks as "remarkable" and by Orrey as one of Handel's "best works".
  • 1733 La serva padrona (Giovanni Battista Pergolesi). Became a model for many of the opera buffas that followed it, including those of Mozart.
  • 1733 Hippolyte et Aricie (Jean-Philippe Rameau). Rameau's first opera caused great controversy at its premiere.
  • 1735 Ariodante (Handel). Both this opera and Alcina enjoy high critical reputations today.
  • 1735 Alcina (Handel). Both this work and Ariodante were part of Handel's first opera season at Covent Garden.
  • 1735 Les Indes galantes (Rameau). In this work Rameau added emotional depth and power to the traditionally lighter form of opéra-ballet.
  • 1737 Castor et Pollux (Rameau). Initially only a moderate success, when it was revived in 1754 Castor et Pollux was regarded as Rameau's finest achievement.
  • 1738 Serse (Handel). Deviation from the usual model of opera seria, Serse contains many comic elements rare in Handel's other works.
  • 1744 Semele (Handel). Originally performed as an oratorio, Semele's dramatic qualities have often led to the work being performed on the opera stage in modern times.
  • 1745 Platée (Rameau). Rameau's most famous comic opera. Originally a court entertainment, a 1754 revival proved extremely popular with French audiences.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart aged 21 in 1777
  • 1760 La buona figliuola (Niccolò Piccinni). Piccinni's work was initially immensely popular throughout Europe. By 1790 over 70 productions of the opera had been produced and it had been performed in all the major European cities.
  • 1762 Orfeo ed Euridice (Christoph Willibald Gluck). Gluck's most popular opera. The first work in which the composer tried to reform the excesses of Italian opera seria.
  • 1762 Artaxerxes (Thomas Arne). The first opera seria in English. After Metastasio's 1729 libretto Artaserse.
  • 1767 Alceste (Gluck). Gluck's second "reform" opera, nowadays usually given in its French revision of 1776.
  • 1768 Bastien und Bastienne (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). Mozart's one-act Singspiel was set to a parody of Rousseau's Le devin du village.
  • 1770 Mitridate, re di Ponto (Mozart). Composed when Mozart was 14, Mitridate was written for a demanding cast of star singers.
  • 1772 Lucio Silla (Mozart). from Mozart's teenage years, was not revived until 1929 after its initial run of 25 performances.
  • 1774 Iphigénie en Aulide (Gluck). Gluck's first opera for Paris.
  • 1775 La finta giardiniera (Mozart). Generally recognised as Mozart's first opera buffa of significance.
  • 1775 Il re pastore (Mozart). Mozart's last opera of his adolescence was set to a libretto by Metastasio.
  • 1777 Il mondo della luna (Joseph Haydn). Last of three that Haydn set to libretti by Carlo Goldoni.
  • 1777 Armide (Gluck). Gluck used a libretto originally set by Lully for this French work, his favourite among his own operas.
  • 1779 Iphigénie en Tauride (Gluck). Gluck's "last and perhaps greatest masterpiece".
  • 1781 Idomeneo (Mozart). Usually thought of as Mozart's first mature opera, Idomeneo was composed after a lengthy break from the stage.
  • 1782 Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Mozart). Often thought of as the first of Mozart's comic masterpieces, this work is frequently performed today.
  • 1782 Il barbiere di Siviglia (Giovanni Paisiello). Paisiello's most famous comic opera, later eclipsed by Rossini's work of the same name.
  • 1786 Der Schauspieldirektor (Mozart). Another Singspiel with much spoken dialogue taken from plays of that time, the plot of Der Schauspieldirektor features two sopranos vying to become prima donna in a newly assembled company. Premiered together with Antonio Salieri's Prima la musica e poi le parole
  • 1786 Le nozze di Figaro (Mozart). The first of the famous series of Mozart operas set to libretti by Lorenzo Da Ponte is now Mozart's most popular opera.
  • 1787 Don Giovanni (Mozart). Second of the operas that Mozart set to Da Ponte's libretti, Don Giovanni has provided a puzzle for writers and philosophers ever since its composition.
  • 1790 Così fan tutte (Mozart). Third and last of the operas that Mozart set to libretti by Da Ponte, Così fan tutte was scarcely performed throughout the 19th century, as the plot was considered to be immoral.
  • 1791 La clemenza di Tito (Mozart). Mozart's last opera before his early death was extremely popular until 1830, after which the work's popularity and critical reputation began to decline; they did not return to their former levels until after the Second World War.
  • 1791 Die Zauberflöte (Mozart). Has been described as "the apotheosis of the Singspiel", Die Zauberflöte was denigrated during the 19th century as confused and lacking in definition.
  • 1792 Il matrimonio segreto (Domenico Cimarosa). Usually regarded as Cimarosa's best opera, Leopold II enjoyed the three-hour-long premiere so much that, after dinner, he compelled the singers to repeat the opera later during that same day.
  • 1797 Médée (Luigi Cherubini). Only French opera of the Revolutionary period to be regularly performed today. A famous showcase for sopranos such as Maria Callas.


Gioachino Rossini, 1820 (International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna)



  • 1850 Genoveva (Robert Schumann). Schumann's only excursion into opera was a relative failure, though the work has had its admirers from Franz Liszt to Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
  • 1850 Lohengrin (Richard Wagner). The last of Wagner's "middle period" works.
  • 1850 Stiffelio (Giuseppe Verdi). Verdi's tale of adultery among members of a German Protestant sect fell foul of the censors.
  • 1851 Rigoletto (Verdi). The first – and most innovative – of three middle period Verdi operas which have become staples of the repertoire.
  • 1853 Il trovatore (Verdi). This Romantic melodrama is one of Verdi's most tuneful scores.
  • 1853 La traviata (Verdi). The role of Violetta, the "fallen woman" of the title, is one of the most famous vehicles for the soprano voice.
  • 1855 Les vêpres siciliennes (Verdi). Verdi's opera displays the strong influence of Meyerbeer.
  • 1858 Der Barbier von Bagdad (Peter Cornelius). An oriental comedy drawing on the tradition of German Romantic opera.
  • 1858 Orphée aux Enfers (Jacques Offenbach). Offenbach's first full-length operetta, this cynical and satirical piece is still immensely popular today.
  • 1858 Les Troyens (Hector Berlioz). Berlioz's greatest opera and the culmination of the French Classical tradition.
  • 1859 Faust (Charles Gounod). Of all the musical settings of the Faust legend, Gounod's has been the most popular with audiences, especially in the Victorian era.
  • 1859 Un ballo in maschera (Verdi). This opera ran into trouble with the censors because it originally dealt with the assassination of a monarch.
  • 1861 Bánk bán (Erkel). Erkel's third opera is considered the Hungarian "National opera".
  • 1862 Béatrice et Bénédict (Berlioz). The last opera Berlioz wrote is the final fruit of his lifelong admiration for Shakespeare.
  • 1862 La forza del destino (Verdi). This tragedy was commissioned by the Imperial Theatre, Saint Petersburg, and Verdi may have been influenced by the Russian tradition in the writing of his work.
  • 1863 Les pêcheurs de perles (Georges Bizet). Though a relative failure at its premiere, this is Bizet's second most performed opera today and is particularly famous for its tenor/baritone duet.
  • 1864 La belle Hélène (Offenbach). Another operetta by Offenbach which pokes fun at Greek mythology.
  • 1864 Mireille (Gounod). Gounod's work is based on the epic poem by Frédéric Mistral and makes use of Provençal folk tunes.
  • 1865 L'Africaine (Giacomo Meyerbeer). Meyerbeer's last Grand Opera received a posthumous premiere.
  • 1865 Tristan und Isolde (Wagner). This romantic tragedy is Wagner's most radical work and one of the most revolutionary pieces in music history. The "Tristan chord" began the breakdown of traditional tonality.
  • 1866 Mignon (Ambroise Thomas). A lyrical work inspired by Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, this was Thomas's most successful opera along with Hamlet.
  • 1866 The Bartered Bride (Bedřich Smetana). Smetana's folk comedy is the most widely performed of all his operas.
  • 1867 Don Carlos (Verdi). Verdi's French grand opera, after Schiller, is now one of his most highly regarded works.
  • 1867 La jolie fille de Perth (Bizet). Bizet turned to a novel by Sir Walter Scott for this opéra comique.
  • 1867 Roméo et Juliette (Gounod). Gounod's version of Shakespeare's tragedy is his second most famous work.
  • 1868 Dalibor (Smetana). One of the most successful of Smetana's operas exploring themes from Czech history.
  • 1868 Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Wagner). Wagner's only comedy among his mature operas concerns the clash between artistic tradition and innovation.
  • 1868 Hamlet (Thomas). Thomas's opera takes many liberties with its Shakespearean source.
  • 1868 La Périchole (Offenbach). Set in Peru, this operetta mixes comedy and sentimentality.
  • 1868 Mefistofele (Arrigo Boito). Though most famous as a librettist for Verdi, Boito was also a composer and he spent many years working on this musical version of the Faust myth.
  • 1869 Das Rheingold (Wagner). The "preliminary evening" to Wagner's epic Ring cycle tells how the ring was forged and the curse laid upon it.
  • 1870 Die Walküre (Wagner). The second part of the Ring tells the story of the mortals Siegmund and Sieglinde and of how the valkyrie Brünnhilde disobeys her father Wotan, king of the gods.
  • 1871 Aida (Verdi). Features one of the greatest tenor arias of all time, Celeste Aida.
  • 1874 Boris Godunov (Modest Mussorgsky). Mussorgsky's great historical drama shows Russia's descent into anarchy in the early 17th century.
  • 1874 Die Fledermaus (Johann Strauss II). Probably the most popular of all operettas.
  • 1874 The Two Widows (Smetana). Another comedy by Smetana, the only one of his operas with a non-Czech subject.
  • 1875 Carmen (Bizet). Probably the most famous of all French operas. Critics at the premiere were shocked by Bizet's blend of romanticism and realism.


  • 1876 Siegfried (Richard Wagner). The third part of the Ring sees the hero Siegfried slay the dragon Fafner, win the ring and free Brunhilde from her enchantment.
  • 1876 Götterdämmerung (Wagner). In the final part of the Ring, the curse takes effect leading to the deaths of Siegfried and Brünnhilde and the destruction of the gods themselves.
  • 1876 La Gioconda (Amilcare Ponchielli). Apart from Verdi's Aida, this is the only Italian grand opera to have stayed in international repertory.
  • 1877 L'étoile (Emmanuel Chabrier). This comic piece has been described as "a cross between Carmen and Gilbert and Sullivan, with plenty of Offenbach thrown in".
  • 1877 Samson et Dalila (Camille Saint-Saëns). An opera with that was heavily influenced by those of Wagner.
  • 1879 Eugene Onegin (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky). Tchaikovsky's most popular opera, based on the verse novel by Alexander Pushkin. The composer strongly identified with the heroine Tatyana.
  • 1881 Hérodiade (Jules Massenet). An opera telling the Biblical story of Salome, Massenet's work was eclipsed by Richard Strauss's treatment of the same subject.
  • 1881 Les contes d'Hoffmann (Jacques Offenbach). Offenbach's attempt at writing a more serious work remained unfinished at his death. Nevertheless, this is his most widely performed opera today.
  • 1881 Simon Boccanegra (Giuseppe Verdi). Verdi heavily revised this opera over twenty years after it was first performed.
  • 1882 Parsifal (Wagner). Wagner's last opera is a "festival play" about the legend of the Holy Grail.
  • 1882 The Snow Maiden (Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov). One of Rimsky-Korsakov's most lyrical works.
  • 1883 Lakmé (Léo Delibes). This opéra comique set in the British Raj in India is famous for its "Flower Duet" and "Bell Song".
  • 1884 Le Villi (Puccini). An early operatic work by Puccini with plenty of opportunity for dance.
  • 1884 Manon (Massenet). Massenet's most enduringly popular work along with Werther.
  • 1885 Der Zigeunerbaron (Johann Strauss II). Strauss's operetta was intended to soothe tensions between Austrians and Hungarians in the Habsburg empire.
  • 1886 Khovanshchina (Modest Mussorgsky). Mussorgsky's second great epic of Russian history was left unfinished at his death.
  • 1887 Le roi malgré lui (Chabrier). Ravel claimed he would rather have written this comic opera than Wagner's Ring cycle, though the plot is notoriously confused.
  • 1887 Otello (Verdi). The first of Verdi's late-period masterpieces was set to a libretto by Arrigo Boito.
  • 1888 Le roi d'Ys (Édouard Lalo). A Breton folk tale with music heavily influenced by Wagner.
  • 1890 Cavalleria rusticana (Pietro Mascagni). A perennial favourite with audiences around the world, this one-acter is usually performed alongside Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.
  • 1890 Prince Igor (Alexander Borodin). Borodin spent 17 years working on this opera off and on, yet never managed to finish it. Most famous for its "Polovtsian dances".
  • 1890 The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky). In a letter to his brother and librettist the composer said that "the opera is a masterpiece".
  • 1891 L'amico Fritz (Mascagni). This work has been thought of as a late example of opera semiseria.
  • 1892 Iolanta (Tchaikovsky). Tchaikovsky's last lyrical opera set to a libretto by his brother Modest.
  • 1892 La Wally (Alfredo Catalani). Usually considered Catalani's masterpiece.
  • 1892 Pagliacci (Ruggero Leoncavallo). One of the most famous verismo operas, usually paired with Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana.
  • 1892 Werther (Massenet). Along with Manon, this is Massenet's most popular opera.
  • 1893 Falstaff (Verdi). Verdi's final opera was set to another of Boito's libretti.
  • 1893 Hänsel und Gretel (Engelbert Humperdinck). The well-known fairy tale received a full Wagnerian operatic adaptation at Humperdinck's hands.
  • 1893 Manon Lescaut (Giacomo Puccini). The success of this work established Puccini's reputation as a composer of contemporary music of the first rank.
  • 1894 Thaïs (Massenet). The opera that contains the famous Méditation interlude.
  • 1896 Andrea Chénier (Umberto Giordano). Set to a libretto by Luigi Illica, this verismo drama is Giordano's most popular opera.
  • 1896 La bohème (Puccini). Debussy is alleged to have said that no one had detailed Paris at that time better than had Puccini in La Boheme.
  • 1897 Königskinder (Humperdinck). Originally a melodrama that blended song and spoken dialogue, the composer adapted the work into an opera proper in 1907.
  • 1898 Fedora (Giordano). Giordano's second most popular opera.
  • 1898 Sadko (Rimsky-Korsakov). The Viking Trader's song from this opera has become extremely popular in Russia.
  • 1899 Cendrillon (Massenet). An immediate success at the time of the premiere, the opera enjoyed 50 performances in 1899 alone.
  • 1899 The Devil and Kate (Antonín Dvořák). The lack of a love interest makes the plot of this work almost unique among Czech comic operas.





Significant firsts in opera history

Operas not included in the above list, but which were important milestones in operatic history.

Lists consulted

This list was compiled by consulting nine lists of great operas, created by recognized authorities in the field of opera, and selecting all of the operas which appeared on at least five of these (i.e. all operas on a majority of the lists). The lists used were:

  1. "A–Z of Opera by Keith Anderson, Naxos, 2000".
  2. "The Standard Repertoire of Grand Opera 1607–1969", a list included in Norman Davies's Europe: a History (Oxford University Press, 1996; paperback edition Pimlico, 1997). ISBN 0-7126-6633-8.
  3. Operas appearing in the chronology by Mary Ann Smart in The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera (Oxford University Press, 1994). ISBN 0-19-816282-0.
  4. Operas with entries in The New Kobbé's Opera Book, ed. Lord Harewood (Putnam, 9th ed., 1997). ISBN 0-370-10020-4
  5. Table of Contents of The Rough Guide to Opera. by Matthew Boyden. (2002 edition). ISBN 1-85828-749-9.
  6. Operas with entries in The Metropolitan Opera Guide to Recorded Opera ed. Paul Gruber (Thames and Hudson, 1993). ISBN 0-393-03444-5 and/or Metropolitan Opera Stories of the Great Operas ed. John W Freeman (Norton, 1984). ISBN 0-393-01888-1
  7. List of operas and their composers in Who's Who in British Opera ed. Nicky Adam (Scolar Press, 1993). ISBN 0-85967-894-6
  8. Entries for individual operas in Warrack, John; West, Ewan (1992). The Oxford Dictionary of Opera. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-869164-8.
  9. Entries for individual operas in Who's Who in Opera: a guide to opera characters by Joyce Bourne (Oxford University Press, 1998). ISBN 0-19-210023-8

Operas included in all nine lists

See also

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