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OPERA NEWS, PUBLISHED monthly by the Metropolitan Opera, had a particularly entertaining collection of Mother’s Day tidbits earlier this year. Here are several that remain in mind, even now in late July.

Trovatore’s Careless Mom. In “Operapedia: Mothers,” Opera News, April 2021, Henry Stewart describes careless mom Azucena as probably the “absolute worst mother in opera.” High praise indeed, what with competition from the Queen of the Night (the baddie in Mozart’s Magic Flute, Clytemnestre (of the highly dysfunctional Greeks in Strauss’s Elektra), and Gertrud (the overburdened mother in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel). 

Azucena is “terrible at fundamentals,” Stewart says. “For example, most new parents know that when you’re trying to avenge your mother, burned alive at the stake for witchcraft, by throwing the child of the family that accused her into the a fire, you make very sure that you’re not throwing your own baby into that fire by accident instead.”

Mezzo soprano Anita Rachvelishvili portraying Azucena in the 2017–2018 Met production of Il Trovatore. Image from Opera News, April 2021.

“In fact,” Stewart says, “ I hope most parents would find a sitter and not bring their own kid to the baby fire at all.” 

In Sir Denis Forman’s book A Night at the Opera,, he summarizes the complex Trovatore plot as the “one where the gypsy woman throws the wrong baby onto the bonfire and thus causes the grown-up unburnt baby to be killed by his brother.” 

Yep. That sums up the Met Trovatore’s running time of 2 hours 39 minutes. Even with the “Anvil Chorus” at halftime, the opera’s best part is at the end when Azucena screams “Egli era tuo fratello!,” “He was your brother!”

Well, yes, Mom. But you started it all by roasting the wrong kid.

Dah De Dahh. On a different note entirely, Stewart says, “Brahms’s most popular composition is so famous that many people have forgotten he even wrote it.”

Johannes Brahms, 1833–1897, German composer extraordinaire, one of “the Three B’s.” Image from

“But” Stewart continues, “his Wiegenlied, or cradle song, from his 5 Lieder, Op. 49, is a friend to every mother and parent. Its German lyrics (“Guten Abend, gut’ Nacht”) are better known to English speakers as ‘Lullaby and goodnight.’

It’s the one that goes, “Dah De Dahh, Dah De Dahh, Dah De Dah Dah, De Dah Dah.” 

 Gee, this is fun. What other familiar music can you describe with such phonics?

An Imperative Empress. “Empress Maria Teresa,” Stewart writes, “ruled the Austrian empire for forty years while having fifteen children with her husband, Francis I. Two of them would follow their father by becoming Holy Roman Emperor—Joseph II, who commissioned Cosi Fan Tutte [and said ‘Too many notes,’ at least he did in the movie Amadeus] and Leopold II, to whose son Beethoven dedicated his Missa Solemnis.”

“Maria Teresa loved music,” Stewart says, “The six-year-old Mozart performed for her.”

Image of Maria Teresa and (some of) her family, 1754, by Martin van Mettens, from Wikipedia.

But my favorite Stewart tale is that once “she caught an orchestra musician trespassing at her palace and had the young man whipped. ‘I am well pleased,’ she told the man, now grown and recounting the story, ‘for it seems that the foolishness was beaten out of you… Joseph Haydn.’ ”

Stewart does not describe the Haydn response. There probably wasn’t any; she was the empress, after all. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 

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