5 important roles who don't get an aria (l-r) The Pips (William Guest, Edward Patten, & Merald "Bubba" Knight) and Gladys Knight.

5 important roles who don't get an aria

Jenna Simeonov
There’s no leading lady without a maid, right? No star tenor without his best friend? Not all operatic roles get their moment in the spotlight: just ask any comprimario. But there’s even a grey area, between title role and character tenor, where there are important characters hanging out onstage saying important lines, but they’re not granted a full-blown aria by the composer. Let’s take a moment and pay homage to some of opera’s most vital, aria-free roles.

Don Alfonso (Così fan tutte)

Mozart is pretty generous with doling out arias to most, if not all of the characters in his operas. Even Marcellina gets an aria in Le nozze di Figaro, even if it’s not always performed. It’s no accident that Don Alfonso, the ringlead of the mayhem that is Così fan tutte, doesn’t get a proper aria (we don’t count the few lines of solo music at the end of a rage-induced, anti-woman recitative, as an aria). He has plenty of stage time, and he’s part of a lot of the best music in the show. At least Figaro and Leporello, with their mountains of recit to learn, get some real time in the spotlight. Perhaps Mozart is taking the voice away from the most insane man in the story on purpose?

Suzuki (Madama Butterfly)

Cio-Cio San’s maid, Suzuki, is no disposable character. She’s vital to the story of Butterfly, and great Suzukis get a chance to show off their silent acting chops. But, talk about a thankless role. Her first lines are tongue-twisting patter, and after that she gets really low prayer music, a sliver of a rage aria against Goro, and then all of a sudden she’s in the middle of the famous Flower Duet. Then more low stuff, a great high G, and it’s done. Pinkerton gets that infuriating act III aria, yet Suzuki gets nada? The same can be said about Sharpless, really; and those two, when they’re well acted and sung, they can break more hearts than even Sorrow.

Marcello (La bohème)

Marcello and Schaunard, really. Schaunard at least gets a aria-like moment early in the show, but it’s more of an exercise in being funny while singing not-that-easy music. Marcello, though, is in all the great bits of La bohème; the guys fooling around in acts I and IV, the scene at Café Momus, the fantastic quartet in act III, and he’s kicking around for the finale. Still, no “my buddy is going through hard times” aria, and no “my girlfriend is crazy but I love crazy” aria. Poor Marcello.

The ladies of Falstaff

Alice Ford, Meg Page, and Mrs. Quickly: all of them make up opera’s best group of clucking hens, yet only sweet little Nannetta gets herself a proper aria. The ladies have some of the opera’s most difficult music, yet because Verdi’s only comedy is fast-paced gold, there are no time-outs for any of the older women to have a moment about getting pawed by rich old men. Mrs. Quickly gets that great duet scene with Falstaff (“revere-e-e-e-e-e-e-nza”, etc.), and Alice Ford gets some great cackling moments up to a high C; but it’s no “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio”.

Sophie (Der Rosenkavalier)

Sure, she sings floaty, delicious high notes in the “Presentation of the Rose” scene, and that final trio with Octavian and the Marschallin wouldn’t be complete without Sophie’s delicious descant. And she’s got that whole nervous-small-talk scene with Octavian when they first meet; it’s adorable, but none of it is an aria. Sopranos love to trot out “Presentation” in their audition packages, and it can be an exercise in pretending they’re talking to someone in those extended silences where the pianist is filling in for an absent Octavian. The result: moments of utterly gorgeous music, spotted with awkward lulls.

Related Content


Unlike other sites, we're keeping Schmopera ad-free. We want to keep our site clean and our opinions our own. Support us for as little as $1.00 per month.