Five Operas that Shocked the World

Art, by its nature, is meant to evoke feeling from the viewer.  Often the feeling is pleasurable, but many times art can create feelings of unease and discomfort.  This is true with opera.  Many of the most respected works today were met with scorn and rejection when they were first presented.  Here are five operas that shocked the world.

La muette de Portici

The work has an important place in music history as the earliest French grand opera. It is also known for its role in the Belgian Revolution of 1830.  A duet about patriotism triggered demonstrations in the Théâtre de la Monnaie that spread across the city, ending in the revolution that established Belgian independence.




Salome, composed by Richard Strauss was banned in London until 1907. When it was given its premiere performance at Covent Garden in London in 1910, it was modified.  In New York, the premiere took place on 22 January 1907 after which, under pressure from wealthy patrons, “further performances were cancelled.”

The Death of Klinghoffer



John Adams’s 1991 opera about the hijacking of the cruise liner Achille Lauro, during which the Jewish American holidaymaker Leon Klinghoffer was murdered by terrorists, caused protests when it was staged at the English National Opera in 2012. At the Met in New York two years later, the production was picketed by hundreds of protesters and its first night was interrupted by boos and catcalls.  It would be a decade before any company dared to bring this opera back to the stage.


George Bizet never saw his work gain acceptance as an operatic masterpiece.  He died at 36, just three months after Carmen’s world premiere.  The piece, denounced as “immoral” by critics very early on and faced many obstacles before it even reached the stage.  Nearly every female lead considered for the title role turned it down.  Bizet refused to rewrite his opera, and it opened to mixed reviews.


Wagner was never satisfied with the score, and revised it multiple times.  The Paris premiere in 1861 was a debacle, largely due to the antics of the local Jockey Club, who sold their members dog whistles to blow during the performance.  Wagner ceased the Paris production after the third night.

To learn about other artists who have pushed the envelope with their work, read our piece about four world class ballets.  Which of these operas that shocked the world have you seen?

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Five Operas that Shocked the World