Serious operas typically end with one or more of the principals dead. The tenor is more often victim than perp. The following excerpts are from operas where the tenor is the killer, an unusual occurrence in an art form where tenors are usually the good guys.
First Verdi’s Luisa Miller. The following description is adapted from the Wiki article on the opera. The excerpt below starts in Act 3 when Rodolfo (tenor) asks Luisa if she really wrote the letter in which she declared her love for Wurm (villainous bass). “Yes,” she replies; she was forced to write it to save her father’s life. Rodolfo drinks a glass of water to which he has added poison and passes a glass to Luisa, inviting her to drink. Then he tells her that they are both condemned to die. Before she dies, Luisa has time to tell Rodolfo the truth about the letter (Duet: Ah piangi; il tuo dolore / “Weep; your sorrow is more justified”). Miller returns and comforts his dying daughter; together the three say their prayers and farewells (Trio, Luisa: Padre, ricevi l’estremo addio / “Father, receive my last farewell”; Rodolfo: Ah! tu perdona il fallo mio / “Oh, forgive my sin”; Miller: O figlia, o vita del cor paterno / “Oh, child, life of your father’s heart”). As Luisa dies, the peasants enter with Count Walter (Rodolfo’s father, bass) and Wurm. Rodolfo runs his sword through Wurm’s breast, declaring to his father La pena tua mira / “Look on your punishment” before he dies.
The final act of Luisa Miller marks the emergence of the mature Verdi. From here on he produced the string of masterpieces which are unparalleled in opera. This performance is from the 1968 run of the opera at the Met. The brilliant cast included Montserrat Caballé, Richard Tucker, and Sherrill Milnes in the the main roles, Thomas Schippers conducted.
There aren’t many operas, off hand I can’t think of any, which end with the tenor guilty of double murder and suicide. Luisa Miller Act 3 conclusion
The murder that ends Bizet’s Carmen is known to just about anyone who’s been inside an opera house’ listened to a commercial, or seen a cartoon. Carmen has discarded her erstwhile lover, Don Jose, like a piece of used toilet paper. He obviously doesn’t take it well. He begs her to take him back and she refuses even if doing so ends her life. This 1969 performance from the Met features Regina Resnik as the tempestuous gypsy. Richard Tucker returns as the crazed and jilted lover. Zubin Mehta conducted. Carmen conclusion
The tenor in Saint-Saëns Samson et Dalilah ends life as a mass murder. The story taken from Chapter 16 of the Book of Judges ends with Samson bringing down the house and thus killing everyone in it. But he has the sanction of God, so I guess its OK. This version is from the San Francisco Opera’s 1981 staging featuring Shirley Verrett and Placido Domingo.
The worst murder by a tenor is likely Otello’s monstrous murder of his wife brought on by unwarranted jealousy. This killing is evokes even more horror in Verdi’s setting than it does in the Shakespeare play on which it is based. Otello’s recognition of his duplicity and of the terrible crime he has committed can be resolved only by his death at his own hand. This recording starts with the entrance of Otello into the marital bedroom. The double bass accompaniment is the most ominous music in opera. Otello is James McCracken. He sang the roll all over the world – 60 times at the Met alone. He started in comprimario roles at the New York company. Then he left for six years to hone his voice in Europe and returned as a fully developed dramatic tenor. Kiri Te Kanawa is Desdemona on this recording. Colin Davis conducts the Royal Opera House Orchestra. Otello final scene
Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci offers another tale of jealous husband who kills his wife, only this time his suspicions are justified. Accordingly, he murders her lover as well. My favorite recording of the opera is that made by Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano under Tulio Serafin’s direction. Canio is too heavy a role for Di Stefano’s lyric tenor. But he had the temperament for the part and was great at it though he spent some of his vocal capital everytime he sang it. No one I’ve heard reaches the passionate level he achieves during the work’s final moments. This excerpt starts with ‘No, Pagliaccio non son’ when the famous play within a play reverts to reality. Pagliacci conclusion
Salome was first performed in 1905 when it was still possible to shock people. Even today might still upset an innocent if one could be found. Richard Strauss set the music to a paired down version of Oscar Wilde’s play of the same name. The play was written in French. Strauss made a French version of the German libretto which was the one Mary Garden used for her many performances of Strauss’s depiction of the struggle between depravity and fanaticism. The former wins.
The score is a marvel of harmonic and orchestral invention combined with melodic brilliance. The teenage title character needs the body of a ballerina and a the voice of Brunhilde. The famous Dance of the Seven Veils is often done by a dancer as there aren’t many divas equipped for dancing til you’re nude.
The role of King Herod is one of opera’s great character parts. The memorable recording of the opera featuring Birgit Nilsson and Georg Solti had tenor Gerhard Stolze as the Tetrarch of Judea. Stolze was so good that he almost stole the recording from Solti and Nilsson, but they were theft proof. The still available recording is one of the medium’s greatest. Even the fervid Herod is finally appalled by Salome’s passionate kissing of the decapitated head of John the Baptist and orders his soldier to kill her. They crush her to death under their shields. Incidentally, she’s his step-daughter. This excerpt starts with Salome’s possession of John’s freshly severed head and ends when Herod orders her death. Salome conclusion
The last murderer is guilty only if circumstantial evidence is admitted. The title character of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes is a nasty fellow whose apprentices seem to die often. Nothing’s proved, but he’s told by his only two friends after the death of his last assistant to take his boat to sea and sink it, which he does.
Though written for Britten’s companion Peter Pears, it was Jon Vickers who was the most renowned Peter Grimes of his time. Reportedly, Britten didn’t care for his over the top portrayal. I saw him in the role twice and thought him wonderful Also, ‘Peter Pears needn’t have airs / He has ’em written by Benjamin Britten. ‘
The video below is Vickers as Grimes going mad over the death of his most recent apprentice.