When words fail in theatre, characters have no choice but to sing. For these six operatic masterpieces, the words had to be sung twice.
From a gripping story of love and loss from Verdi to Puccini’s story of betrayal and tragedy, here are half a dozen operas that received a musical theatre makeover.
The Beggar‘s Opera into The Threepenny Opera and Beggar’s Holiday
After Macheath, an infamous thief, marries Polly Peachum, the daughter of a corrupt thief catcher, her father is determined to end his life in an attempt to not only save his daughter, but to steal his new son-in-law’s wealth. This 1728 opera received not only one, but two musical adaptations. The first came in 1928, two centuries after John Gay’s original piece premiered. The Threepenny Opera, written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, premiered in Germany and stuck closely to the plot of its source inspiration. It made its first bow on Broadway in 1933 and has since been revived five times. Beggar’s Holiday, Duke Ellington and John La Touche’s more modernized version of the tale, also received a turn on the Main Stem in 1946.
Carmen into Carmen Jones
Based on the Prosper Mérimée novella of the same name, Carmen featured a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy and music by Georges Bizet. Set in Spain in the early 1800s, the 1875 opera in four acts follows the title character as she narrowly escapes imprisonment, using her wits and flirtation to distract Don José, the soldier tasked with arresting her. Despite her charm getting her out of trouble initially, it ultimately leads to her downfall as José kills her in a jealous rage. In 1943, Oscar Hammerstein II modernized the original story to fit a World War II setting. The re-telling premiered on Broadway in 1943 and received a film adaptation in 1954. In 2018, the show was revived Off-Broadway, with Anika Noni Rose winning a Lucille Lortel Award in the title role.
Like Once In May into Maytime
Like Once In May, or Wie einst im Mai, featured music by Walter and Willi Kollo and a libretto by Rudolf Bernauer and Rudolph Schanzer. In a story of forbidden romance, Ottilie von Henkeshoven and Fritz Jüterbog are forced to be separate despite their love for each other because of family and class. Despite moving on and marrying other people, the two continue to find their way back to each other throughout their lives and remain close. The show spans over 70 years, and after Fritz and Ottilie have passed away, their respective grandchildren end up falling in love and marrying with no one being able to stop them. A Broadway production of the show’s musical counterpart premiered in 1917, and was later adapted into two films—one in 1923 and another in 1937.
Aida into Aida
Giuseppe Verdi’s 1870 opera of forbidden love sees the Ethiopian princess, Aida, captured and held hostage by Egyptian officers who are unaware of her true identity. During her imprisonment, she and Radamès, an Egyptian soldier, fall in love, and are forced to choose between their hearts and their homes. In 1998, Elton John, Tim Rice, and book writers Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang adapted the tragic love story into a new musical, and in 2000, it opened on Broadway led by Heather Headley (who won a Tony Award), Adam Pascal, and Sherie Rene Scott.
The Mikado into The Hot Mikado
This Gilbert and Sullivan two-act follows Nanki-Poo, the son of a Japanese emperor, as he flees the court to escape an arranged marriage, disguising himself as a traveling musician to avoid being caught. He falls in love with a woman named Yum-Yum, who is already set to marry her guardian, Ko-Ko. When Ko-Ko, the town’s executioner, is urged by the emperor to commit an execution, he strikes a deal with Nanki-Poo to exchange a month of marriage to Yum-Yum for his life. In 1939, Mike Todd and Charles L. Cooke‘s adaptation, titled The Hot Mikado, made its way to Broadway with a cast led by Bill “Bojangles“ Robinson and a jazzed up score.
Madama Butterfly into Miss Saigon
In 1904, Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Giacosa, and Luigi Illica‘s Madama Butterfly premiered in Milan. After Cio-Cio-san, referred to as Butterfly, and U.S. naval officer Pinkerton are married, he disappears, leaving her alone to raise their son. Butterfly eagerly awaits his return, and three years later he comes back with Kate, a woman he married in America. Ashamed of his actions, Pinkerton cannot face Butterfly, and in her despair (and in true operatic fashion), she takes her own life. Premiering in 1989 in the West End, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, and Richard Maltby Jr. took the basic story and transplanted it to the time before and after the Vietnam War. The show opened on Broadway in 1991, winning star Lea Salonga a Tony Award and running for a decade. A 2017 revival scored two Tony Award nominations, including one for current Hadestown star Eva Noblezada.