What's good opera music for a funeral?
April 26, 2006 5:24 PM   Subscribe

I'd like some recommendations for opera music to be played at a funeral.

My grandfather was a great lover of opera, and I have been asked to choose some music to play at his memorial service. I don't know much about opera, but I'd love something somber and sensitive, but not dour, preferably Italian.

If you know of a good place to download the music online, I'd appreciate that too.
posted by Rock Steady to Media & Arts (24 answers total)
What you're looking for is a Requiem Mass.
I think that Mozart's is stunning.
posted by shokod at 5:31 PM on April 26, 2006

or what about Un Bel Di, from Madame Butterfly?
posted by stonefruit at 5:36 PM on April 26, 2006

A requiem mass is very much not opera, and is probably inappropriate if the deceased is not Catholic -- but if the deceased was Catholic I bet you wouldn't be looking for opera! Opera and a Mass have nothing to do with each other, aside from both being classical music.

Do you know which operas were your grandfather's favorite, or which composers, or which centuries? That'd give us a starting point, at least. Otherwise it's sort of like asking for "some rock music" -- there's such a huge variety I don't know where to start recommending.

The hard part will be finding scenes that don't have some inappropriate meaning, just like it would be hard to find Shakespeare to read at a memorial; the comedies are inappropriate from the get-gos, and the tragedies are all enough larger-than-life that they'd trivialize. So some sort of direct connection with the deceased other than "it's opera, and he liked opera" will make things fit a lot better.
posted by mendel at 5:52 PM on April 26, 2006

You'll get more predictable sound quality from a cd. Your local library may have a cd collection. Call them and see if they have a selection of classical music you can borrow.

Sorry to hear about your grandfather.
posted by raedyn at 5:53 PM on April 26, 2006

mendel -- Thanks for your advice, and I appreciate that it is a vague and tricky request. My grandfather was Catholic, and there will be a mass, but he did love opera, and so I thought it was appropriate to include some. I'm very frustrated that I can't remember specific operas that he liked (and my Grandmother would be no help -- she hated the stuff), but I do recall that most of the stuff he had me listen to when I was younger was Italian opera.

I'd say that the meaning of the piece is not particularly important (but it would be nice if it was appropriate), as long as the tone is right, if that makes sense.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:06 PM on April 26, 2006

My sympathies to you on the passing of your grandfather.

As a lover of opera, he surely would have known and loved Puccini's Tosca. The character Tosca is an opera singer by profession, and sings one of Puccini's most beautiful arias "Vissi d'arte" (trans: "Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore – “I lived on art, I lived on love”) near the end of the second act.

You could do worse than a recording of Maria Callas as Tosca, circa 1953. This page has a link to a 30 second clip of another Tosca.
posted by paulsc at 6:23 PM on April 26, 2006

perhaps "ombra mai fu" from handel's xerxes would serve. it is elegiac in tone-- a very beautiful aria, plaintive and moving. the words are appropriate for a funeral.

my two favorite versions are sung by david daniels and gerard lesne--they are both counter-tenors, lesne sounds more masculine, daniels more mezzo-soprano. there are many other recordings.

your grandfather would no doubt have known this aria. it is in italian, and has traditionally been sung for funerals and memorials.

my condolences.
posted by subatomiczoo at 6:25 PM on April 26, 2006

If you completely forget about the meaning, what about "Nessun Dorma" (Puccini, from Turandot)? The meaning doesn't match, but the tone would be right, in my opinion. It starts a bit somber, like you specify, but by the end it's become powerfully uplifting -- listen to it and see if you think it would be appropriate.

It is in Italian, and I don't think there are any obvious cognates that would give away the different meaning to a casual listener. It is common enough that people would be able to recognize it "from somewhere," I think, and it should be very easy to find versions by many different singers.

Wikipedia says it was used for the 1990 Football World Cup. I'm not sure where you are, but if people remember it from that, or from car commercials or something, that would obviously be bad.

This must be very hard. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by booksandlibretti at 6:26 PM on April 26, 2006

Va' pensiero from Nabucco (Giuseppe Verdi)
Ave Maria (Franz Shubert)

My condolences. Sounds like you're doing all right by him, though - I'm sure he'd have liked whatever you choose.
posted by Dub at 6:31 PM on April 26, 2006

In that case, there's an obvious solution: Verdi! People will immediately recognize Verdi as Italian opera, it's beautiful music, and it's really, really easy to find. What I'd recommend you do is swing by the library or a music store, where it should be easy to find a CD comprised of nothing but Verdi arias like this one or this one. (You could even listen to some excerpts at those URLs.) From there it's just a case of choosing something you think sounds right (and maybe checking a translated libretto to make sure it's not completely inappropriate).

On preview: Puccini would work well in the same way. Well-known, and available in CDs of arias. Handel? Not what I'd expect for "Italian opera", which to me means huge, fat-lady-sings Romantic opera. Even Mozart would be more "Italian opera" than Handel if you did want to go back to Classical. (And Ave Maria is not opera.)
posted by mendel at 6:40 PM on April 26, 2006

o my gosh, handel's baroque operas sung in italian are hardly "romantic" fat-lady works. i dont know what the heck mendel is talking about.
posted by subatomiczoo at 6:55 PM on April 26, 2006

o mio babbino caro (oh, my dear papa) from puccini's one-act gianni sicchi is beautiful, and short, so as a practical matter, you could easily integrate it into a service.

this purports to be recordings of renee fleming and charlotte church each singing it. callas recorded it more than once. (stay away from sarah brightman, for one thing, her pronunciation is atrocious). you might remember the aria from liquid television. lyrically, like a lot of opera, it's going to be inappropriate (since most operas are, at heart, romance novels). in it, the singer is imploring her father to let her go marry her boyfriend, else she throw herself off the ponte vecchio and into the river. but it is beautiful, and a touch melancholy.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:04 PM on April 26, 2006

Nessun Dorma was also used in an opera-themed funeral in an episode of Six Feet Under. It was very moving.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:04 PM on April 26, 2006

subatomiczoo, you misread mendel's comment, which posits that Handel is not romantic enough. I think earlier is better, in that classical and renaissance sounds are often perceived as less offensive than later works. So Mozart's good, but Puccini might be a little too much for a funeral.

But, perhaps the best choice is "Thy hand, Belinda/When I am laid in earth" from Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. The descending bassline throughout has come to represent sorrow throughout Western music history.

Thy hand, Belinda; darkness shades me,
On thy bosom let me rest,
More i would, but Death invades me;
Death is now a welcome guest.

When I am laid, am laid in earth, may my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast,
Remember me! remember me!
but ah! forget my fate (repeated)

This audio sample [wma] might not work.

Maybe you can even find a recording of the Jeff Buckley version.

And my condolences as well on the loss of your grandfather.
posted by billtron at 7:28 PM on April 26, 2006

oops biltron you are right, i goofed--sorry mendel.

but i'll stand by ombra mai fu as plenty "small r" romantic, which is to say emotional but without the big diva trappings associated with later italian opera.
posted by subatomiczoo at 7:55 PM on April 26, 2006

No, what I meant is that if granddad was a fan of "Italian opera", he was probably a fan of big, diva-ish Romantic-period opera and would have preferred Verdi to Monteverdi when he was alive.

I agree that Romantic-period opera is not your typical memorial service music, but I figured that was the point -- not just background music for a memorial as much as a musical tribute to the deceased. If Rock Steady wasn't trying to find his grandfather's favorite kind of opera I definitely wouldn't be recommending Verdi.

I'd avoid English-language works because people will actively listen to the words.
posted by mendel at 8:43 PM on April 26, 2006

Another "Dido" aria to consider would be "When I am laid in earth" (Dido's Lament), with Eileen Farrell, if available.
- "What is life to me without thee?" from Gluck's Orfeo
- "Soave sia il vento," farewell trio from Mozart's Così
posted by rob511 at 10:33 PM on April 26, 2006

O Mio Babbino Caro is one of the very few songs that bring tears to my eyes.
Maybe it's the combination of sadness and extreme beauty.

Diamonds and Rust is another. Go figure.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:14 AM on April 27, 2006

Another vote here for When I am laid in earth.
posted by Lotto at 12:55 AM on April 27, 2006

If you would like to play something he enjoyed, perhaps you could look at his record/CD collection to see which ones are at the top of the stack or still in the player. Perhaps you'll find one of the suggestions listed here in his own; how fitting it would be to play it from his own collection.

So sorry to hear of your loss.
posted by saffron at 2:59 AM on April 27, 2006

Seems to me that any selection from the Mikado would be appropriate.
posted by The Confessor at 5:13 AM on April 27, 2006

I'm sorry to hear about your Grandfather.

I'm partial to the Maria Callas rendition of Ave Maria from Verdi's Otello. It's beautiful.
posted by Yavsy at 6:47 AM on April 27, 2006

I think Yavsy just got the hat trick. Callas, Ave Maria, and Verdi! Excellent.
posted by mendel at 7:42 AM on April 27, 2006

If my suggestion of Purcell was not romantic enough, then I would suggest "Niun Mi Tema" from Verdi's Otello.

audio sample [wma]

It's a tenor aria, so Callas probably didn't record it.
posted by billtron at 1:49 PM on April 28, 2006

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