5 people who would make great opera roles Photo by Anthony Behar.

5 people who would make great opera roles

Jenna Simeonov
Thank goodness for people who live loudly and influentially; where else would we get great fodder for the new operas of the 21st century? Though we all love the supernatural, sometimes it’s even better when you know an opera is based on a real person’s life, like Maria Stuarda, Giulio Cesare, Nixon in China, and Anna Nicole. We’ve got five people to add to that list of people whose lives deserve an opera.

Anna Wintour

Would she not make a great anti-heroine? If you don’t know much about Anna Wintour, you likely know of Meryl Streep’s performance in The Devil Wears Prada, loosely and unofficially based on the notoriously chilly Vogue editor.

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada.

There are tales of her pro-fur stance (and resulting hostile relationship with animal rights activists), the elitist “unwritten rules” at Vogue about who’s allowed to interact with her, and general chilliness - though they may be more a series of interesting myths than real operatic fodder.

Still, there’s a broader story about the difference between strong women and bitches. Powerful women are everywhere in opera, and the opportunities for opera-sized drama are plentiful in the world of high fashion. Plus, Anna Wintour would be kind of a great reverse-trouser-role for a countertenor.

Bill Nye

The scientist, science educator, actor, TV presenter, and aspiring astronaut could be a tragic hero of sorts, don’t you think? There’s something heartwrenching about a science educator who is truly passionate about what he teaches - and about making it accessible to kids - living in the same world as people who deny vaccines, climate change, and evolution.

Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

There could even be a cameo by a Carl Sagan character, since Bill Nye took one of his astronomy classes at Cornell. Sagan would definitely be a bass - but the warm, soothing kind - and Nye an energetic baritone.

Michelle Obama

Right up there with Donizetti’s Tudor Queens, the hypothetical opera about Michelle Obama is packed with some serious history. The election of Barack Obama exposed the real racism that still exists in the United States; yet at the same time, the Obamas set a new bar for humanity and class among politicians.

First Lady Michelle Obama has lunch with students.

Pick any angle you like for the opera: major events in American history, raising one’s kids in the public eye, and the crazy mix of scary/prideful it must be to be the country’s first black First Lady.

Freddie Mercury

This one is sort of meta, since Mercury was an opera fan himself, and recorded Barcelona with Monterrat CaballĂ©, who said of him, “the difference between Freddie and almost all the other rock stars was that he was selling the voice.” Even if that’s set aside, can you think of a better larger-than-life character? He was a racial minority, he was (mostly) openly gay, he was a killer performer, and he probably wrote at least one of your top ten favourite songs.

Freddie Mercury. Photo by Carl Lender via Flickr.

Turning even a small slice of his biography into an opera wouldn’t be hard; his songs are in the Grammys Hall of Fame, he escaped the Zanzibar Revolution with his family, and he was a man who had HIV/AIDS in the public eye - in the 1980s and early 90s. That’s some operatic fodder, for sure.

Gilbert Gottfried

Alright, maybe not a full-lenth opera with Gottfried as the main character - but really, how great would it be to hear that voice translated into singing? It would just be an exercise for the nerdy - who can compose the most creative operatic version of the voice that did Iago in Disney’s Aladdin?

There could be something in his career as a voice actor, or how he had a bit of a “too soon” trend as a comedian, telling jokes about things like Japanese tsunami disasters and 911 (something about his flight having to stop at the Empire State Building first).

But really, he’d be a better comprimario role in the middle of someone else’s story. We just want to hear a composer set that voice. Maybe find a way for him to sing a duet with Fran Drescher.

Who do you think would make a great opera character? Let us know in the comments below!

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