The Harp: Queen of the Drama But Not a Drama Queen

Whether you are a harpist or just a lover of the harp, you know the magnetic power of the sound of this magnificent instrument. The harp can sound rich and fluid, or sparkling and elegant. The harp can be delicate or dynamic or even heroic. This vast color palette makes listening to the harp endlessly fascinating and playing the harp an exciting adventure.

Composers also enjoy exploring the harp’s expressive capabilities to bring more color to their works. Nowhere is this more evident than in opera. Whether the opera plot involves the tragic end to a passion (Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde) or the delicate extinguishing of a candle (Puccini’s La Bohème), the harp can make the moment magical.

Today, February 8, 2021 is officially National Opera Day and I could think of no better way to celebrate opera than by sharing just a few of my favorite opera harp moments (I have far too many to list them all). Even if you aren’t an opera fan, I encourage you to listen to recordings of at least a few of these. You will not only hear exquisitely beautiful music but you may be inspired to expand your own expressive range.

Happy National (Harp is the Queen of the) Opera Day!

Puccini, Gianni Schicchi, O mio babbino caro
Verdi, La Traviata, Act I Finale
Verdi, La Forza del Destino, Overture
Wagner, Die Walküre, Magic Fire Music
Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet, Death of Juliet
Mascagni, Cavalleria Rusticana, Siciliana and Intermezzo 
Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor, Regnava nel silenzio 
Donizetti, The Elixir of Love, Una furtiva lagrima

And perhaps my favorite opera moment is in the famous aria Nessun dorma, from Puccin’s opera Turandot. It’s a very small harp part, but there is one simple harp chord that is magical. It occurs about halfway through the aria and signals the renewed courage and determination of the tenor in his quest to win the princess. This gentle harp chord is followed by an exciting crescendo in the strings and then the tenor bursts in with the words:

Dilegua, o notte                 Vanish, night
Tramontate, stelle             Set, stars,
Tramontate, stelle             Set, stars
All'alba vincerò                  With the dawn, I will win
Vincerò                                I will win
Vincerò                                I will win

You can almost feel his resolve emanating from that single simple harp chord. I’ve included one of my favorite recordings below. Listen carefully for that harp chord. It’s at 1:50”. And yes, I chose a recording that has no interesting video with it on purpose. I want you to listen! 


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