Tosca’s Scarpia, Rome’s Bloodthirsty Police Chief
Rome has fallen into tumult. Revolution is in the air: Republicans are fighting for power against a ruling class entrenched in the monarchy. So a police state has formed, bent on rooting out the subversive elements.
At its head is Baron Scarpia, the chief of police, a man with no qualms about arrest, torture, and summary execution. He lusts after the singer Tosca, but Tosca is in love with someone else: the painter Cavaradossi. As the church-goers around him sing the hymn “Te Deum,” Scarpia curses Tosca for his godless ways and decides on a plot to kill her lover: “He’ll go to the gallows, and she will come into my arms!”
A Villain’s Redemption in The Marriage of Figaro
Who says a bad guy has to remain a bad guy? At the start of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Count Almaviva is set to betray his faithful servant Figaro by bedding his bride-to-be Susanna. He’s even put Figaro’s wedding chambers right next to his own bedroom, so he can slip in undetected and seduce her.
But he’s just discovered that Figaro already plans to derail his schemes. So in the aria “Hai gia vinta la causa... Vedro mentr'io sospiro,” Almaviva vows to “punish” the love-birds. After all, how dare this serf enjoy more bliss than his master? But ultimately Figaro won’t just save Susanna from seduction: He will help save Almaviva from his own villainy.
John Claggart, Billy Budd’s Conflicted Schemer
From the dark recesses of the HMS Indomitable, the ship’s brooding master-at-arms, John Claggart, emerges to eye his prey. Claggart has formed an obsession with the new recruit, Billy Budd, a young man whose innocence and ideals threaten his iron-fisted dominance. Something draws him to Billy, some unspeakable attraction that will spell both of their dooms.
In what has to be the ultimate villain aria, Claggart vows to destroy the young sailor and mutilate the body that causes him such torment. “O beauty, o handsomeness, goodness,” he croons. “Would that I never encountered you!”
A Court of Enablers, Led by Rigoletto’s Morally Corrupt Duke
The bouncy cabaletta “Possente amor mi chiama” is the perfect embodiment of the villain who sings it: The Duke of Mantua. Gleefully, he seduces woman after woman, taking pleasure in the chaos he sows among his courtiers. He sings of love — but his love is an empty thing, the hollow gestures of a libertine.
In this song, the Duke prepares to claim his jester’s daughter Gilda, who has been kidnapped from her father: “A great love beckons. I must rush to her!” By the next act, he will have moved on to another woman, leaving Gilda heartbroken.
Spotlight on the Bad Guy in Mephistopheles
Hey, bad guys can be heroes too. Arrigo Boito’s Mephistopheles shines a spotlight on the baddest of them all: the devil. The scholar Faust — who is ordinarily the hero of Faustian legend — takes a backseat in this retelling, which foregrounds the battle between good and evil, God and the devil.
In this showstopping aria, “Ecco il Mondo,” Mephistopheles cups the world in his hands, remarking on how vapid and sinful it already is, to the cheers of his followers.
A Predatory Preacher Finds a Victim in Susannah
She looked to him as a leader, as a voice for God and all that is good. But now, when the teenager Susannah needs his help the most, the Reverend Olin Blitch instead prepares to take advantage of her — to rape her when she has no energy to resist.
Blitch swallowed wholeheartedly the rumors of Susannah’s supposedly lascivious behavior, and he uses it as justification for his own immorality in the low, menacing aria, “I’m a Lonely Man, Susannah.”
Don Giovanni, Mozart’s Insatiable Seducer
Who would seduce a newlywed on her wedding night? Why, the same type of guy who might get dragged to hell by a chorus of demons.
In the duet “Là ci darem la mano,” Mozart’s infamous libertine is back at it, winding his way into innocent hearts. Don Giovanni has already notched over a thousand conquests in Spain alone — and he kills any man who stands in his way. Now that he’s managed to separate the beautiful bride Zerlina from her husband, he tells her to put her hand in his, culminating in the two singing together as one as Zerlina succumbs to his charms.