I have no explanation, but fathers figure in opera far more frequently than do mothers. Here are some excerpts or even the entire opera that have mothers in a prominent role. To be included in this group the child must be alive at some point in the opera. If he/she is dead before the action starts the work is not eligible for this list. Thus, Puccini’s Giorgetta in Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica are not here as their children died before the beginning of the operas – though a vision of Angelica’s son appear at the opera’s end.

Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro has a plot more convoluted than a dozen Slinkies. One of the plot twists is Marcellina’s attempt to get Figaro to marry her even though she’s old enough to be his mother, which to everyone’s surprise she is. She then settles for Dr Bartolo who is Figaro’s father. Mozart wrote an aria for Marcellina “Il capro e la capretta” which usually is cut from the very long opera. A performance of it is below.

Mozart’s The Magic Flute features an ambiguous mother – the Queen of the Night. Pamina is her daughter. Regardless of whether she’s a protective mother or a force of darkness she has a boffo aria in the second act. The Queen of the Night’s Aria is sung by Joan Sutherland.

Cherubini’s Medea is likely opera’s worst mother. Her lover Jason has abandoned her for another woman. In an unnatural act of revenge she murders her two children. A complete performance of the opera follows.

Bellini’s Norma tries to follow Medea’s murderous act, but her maternal feelings get the best of her and she can’t go through with the awful act. At the opera’s end she gets back with her errant lover Pollione and they decide to celebrate their reunion by being burned alive. The duet Qual cor tradisti is sung by Maria Callas and Franco Corelli.

Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor is a take on the same Shakespeare source (without the Henry IV material) as Verdi used for Falstaff. It’s a Singspiel that is a wonderful work that deserves more performances than it gets outside of the German speaking world. In this version the mother is Frau Reich (Meg Page) as opposed to Alice Ford in the Verdi version. The composer’s death at 38 is one of the lyric stage’s tragedies. Here’s the Dance and Chorus that comes just before the opera’s end.

Azucena in Verdi’s Il Trovatore is somebody’s mother. According to everyone but her, she’s the title character’s (Manrico) mother. But there’s the throwing the wrong baby into the fire business so we can’t be sure. Given her fragile mental equilibrium she likely doesn’t know which baby went into the pyre and which she kept and raised as her own. Ai nostri monti ritorneremo. is sung in Act 4 when both mother and putative son are imprisoned by the Count Di Luna, possibly Manrico’s brother. They sing about happier times in the mountains. The singers are Giulietta Simionato and Mario Del Monaco.

Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera is about a mother (Amelia) who’s in love, though without touching as far as we know, with her husband’s (Renato) best friend (Riccardo). Renato, who thinks there was touching, has resolved to kill Amelia for the dishonor she has brought on him. She protests her innocence and begs to see her son one last time. Morrò, ma prima in grazia. Leontyne Price is the soprano. The child does not make an appearance in the opera. l

Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells) was set to a libretto by Colette. It’s about a rather nasty child who has been reprimanded by his mother for his lousy behavior and is left alone in a room. In Part 1 he destroys most of the inanimate objects in the room. They come to life and tell him what a louse he is and that he deserves punishment. Part 2 is in a garden where the plants and animals shun him because he has also ill treated them. They attack him after he calls out “Maman,” but in the commotion they injure a squirrel. The child in an uncharacteristic act of kindness bandages the rodent’s wounds and upon seeing this act of kindness, the animals have a change of heart toward the child, and decide to try to help him home. They mimic the cry of “Maman”, carry the child back to his house, and sing his praises. The opera ends with the child singing “Maman”, as he greets his mother, in the very last bar of the score. As is true for everything Ravel wrote, the opera is delicately wrought and perfectly constructed. While it may never have the mass appeal of Verdi or Puccini, it is a delicacy that deserves attention. A complete performance is below.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Iolanthe tells the story of a fairy, Iolanthe, who has been banished from fairyland because she married a mortal; this is forbidden by fairy law. Her son, Strephon, is an Arcadian shepherd who wants to marry Phyllis, a Ward of Chancery. All the members of the House of Peers also want to marry Phyllis. When Phyllis sees Strephon hugging a young woman (not knowing that it is his mother – immortal fairies all appear young), she assumes the worst and sets off a climactic confrontation between the peers and the fairies. The satire of then contemporary British government, especially the House of Lords, is easily apparent. A complete performance is below.

Opera’s most famous mother is, of course, Madama Butterfly. Her child plays the pivotal role in the story. She agrees to give up her son to his reckless father and his insensitive wife if he’ll come himself to get the boy. Almost everyone knows the denouement. The last scene is sung with searing intensity by Maria Callas. The three repetitions of Butterfly’s name are delivered by Nicolai Gedda.

There are more operas with mothers in important roles, but these are enough for now.