Opera Arias Transcribed For Cello

The vocal melodies of many of the most beloved opera arias are often well suited to playing on the cello. The operatic repertoire – lyrical, dramatic, soaring, deeply expressive and emotive – provides us with a huge source of magnificent music, just waiting to be transcribed. Playing vocal music on the cello encourages us to play as if we were singers, which is not only one of a cellist’s most important skills but also one of our greatest sources of pleasure.

When playing an opera aria on the cello it can be a great interpretative help to know what is happening in the story. One way to do that is to know what the lyrics are saying. If we imagine the words while we are playing the music, this can help us to understand the music better and thus to play it with more meaning (see Sing or Speak), avoiding the temptation to just follow our blind intuition. Sometimes however, when transcribing an aria for cello, we might actually want to do just the opposite, ignoring (or overriding) the lyrics in order to allow small changes in the rhythm of the melody. Often the rhythm of a melody is determined by the syllables of the lyrics, but because we are not actually singing any words, we are not necessarily tied to those syllabic rhythms and can choose to be a little freer with the rhythms and articulations. This is exactly what has been done in most of the transcriptions from vocal music on this website.

These are the available arias, shown here in chronological (rather than alphabetical) order. This chronological order gives us a very nice “History of the Opera” recital, spanning three centuries with (very) approximately 30 years between each aria and the next.

  1.  Purcell: “Dido’s Lament” from “Dido and Aeneas” (1688)
  2.  Vivaldi: “Agitata da Due Venti” from “Griselda” (1735)
  3.  Vivaldi/Giacomelli: Sposa, Son Disprezzata (1735)
  4.  Gluck: “Che Faró?” from “Orfeo ed Euridice” (1762)
  5.  Mozart: “Queen of the Night” from “The Magic Flute” (1791)
  6.  Mozart: “Voi Che Sapete” from “The Marriage Of Figaro” (1786)
  7.  Rossini: “Una Voce Poco Fa” from “The Barber of Seville”(1816)
  8.  Verdi: “Brindisi” from “La Traviata” (1853)
  9.  Verdi: “Donna é Mobile from Rigoletto (1851)
  10.  Verdi: “Tace la Notte” from Il Trovatore (1852)
  11.  Bizet: “Habanera” from “Carmen” (1875)
  12.  Puccini: Ten Famous Arias (1890-1924)
  13.  Gershwin: “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” (1935)
  14.  Bernstein: “Maria”, “Somewhere” and “Tonight”  from “West Side Story” (1957)
  15.  Andrew Lloyd-Webber: “Memory” from “Cats” (1981)