The world of opera has plenty of connections to Broadway, but it's usually within the world of musical theatre. These seven straight plays break that mold, bringing bel canto, high notes, and that unmistakable theatricality to the theatre stage.
The Lisbon Traviata by Terrence McNally
Four gay men unite through their love of a live Maria Callas recording of La Traviata. As the character's lives grow increasingly out of control, the opera keeps them united, despite heartbreak. The original Off-Broadway cast included future The Front Page co-stars Nathan Lane and John Slattery. Lane won the Lucille Lortel and 1990 Drama Desk Awards for Best Actor for his performance as Mendy. John Tillinger won the Lucille Lortel Award for direction and McNally was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play. While the play has never been produced on Broadway, it did enjoy a London fringe run in 2004 and a Kennedy Center revival in 2010.
Master Class by Terrence McNally
Continuing the Callas—and McNally—trend is this fictional account involving a very real, larger-than-life diva, in which Callas reflects on her life through her students. The 1995 original Broadway production starred Zoe Caldwell as Callas and Audra McDonald as Sharon, a studen, with both winning Tony Awards (the play also won Best Play). Other stars to take on the famed soprano have included Patti LuPone, Faye Dunaway, and, in a 2011 Broadway revival, Tyne Daly.
Living on Love by Joe DiPietro
This comedy marked the Broadway debut of Renée Fleming in a meta role, playing an aging opera singer who hires a handsome writer to chronicle her life in retaliation for her husband's behavior. In an interview with Playbill, she said her character was “an expression of my inner diva.” The play ran for 37 performances at Longacre Theatre in 2015 with a high-wattage cast alongside Fleming, including Tony nominee Douglas Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel), six-time Emmy nominee Anna Chlumsky (Veep), and Jerry O'Connell (Broadway’s Seminar, Jerry Maguire). Kathleen Marshall-helmed production debuted at Williamstown Theatre Festival before coming to the Great White Way.
Farinelli and the King by Claire van Kampen
Featuring arias and art songs newly arranged by van Kampen, this is the tale of King Philip V of Spain, whose ailing health
is only cured by listening to a famous castrato by the name of Farinelli. Van Kampen and director John Dove split the opera singer's role between two performers, with Sam Crane performing the speaking parts while Grammy-winning countertenor Iestyn Davies made his Broadway debut as the singing voice, alternating performances with James Hall and Eric Jurenas.
M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang
The story of a Frenchman who falls in love with a male Peking opera singer disguised as a woman and becomes ensnared in an espionage plot sounds made up. But this Madama Butterfly-adjacent play is actually based on a true scandal that emerged in the ‘80s when authorities discovered evidence implicating the pair. In the show, names and details are changed, but the story remains: Rene Gallimard and Song Liling meet during a performance of the Puccini opera, fall in love, and begin a sordid love affair involving government secrets. The original Tony-winning production starred John Lithgow and BD Wong, who won the Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play. A 2017 production, revamped by Hwang and directed by Julie Taymor, starred Clive Owen and Jin Ha.
Amadeus by Peter Schaffer
Operas like Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro play an important role in this story of Mozart and his rival Salieri. After a successful London debut in the ‘70s, the original Broadway production won the Tony for Best Play and earned nominations for Tim Curry as Mozart and Ian McKellan as Salieri in 1980. Schaffer would go on to write the screenplay for the film adapation, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1985. Amadeus is based on Alexander Pushkin's 19th-Century play Mozart and Salieri, which inspired the opera of the same name by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1897. A 2016 (and subsequent 2018) mounting at the National Theatre in London starred Lucian Msamati as Salieri alongside Adam Gillen as Mozart.
Lend Me a Tenor by Ken Ludwig
When Italian opera star Tito Merelli comes to Cleveland, Ohio, to perform Verdi’s Otello, a comedy of errors and mistaken identities unfolds. The play transferred to Broadway in 1989 after a West End debut and was nominated for six Tony awards, winning for Best Actor (Philip Bosco in the role of Saunders, the opera manager) and Best Direction (Jerry Zaks). A 2010 revival, directed by Stanley Tucci, starred Jan Maxwell, Anthony LaPaglia, and Justin Bartha.