The Most Dramatic "Crowd Scenes" In Opera History
A crowd scene occurs when a chorus, instead of or in addition to individual singers, serve a supporting role in the story arc.
1. Modest Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov, Prologue, Coronation Scene.
The king of crowd scenes. And "king" is an appropriate term, as here in the opera's prologue, we meet Boris Gudunov, who followed Tsar Ivan IV, otherwise, known as "Ivan the Terrible," at his coronation as the new Tsar and leader of Russia in the late 1500's. He promised hope to the people, who are represented by the chorus and shout "Glory!" as their hero is elevated to power.
2. Giacomo Puccini: Tosca, Act I, Te Deum.
At the closing of Act I, it is 1800 in Rome and we find the dastardly Scarpia - arguably the greatest villain in opera history - serving as the chief of police, searching for a revolutionary prisoner hiding somewhere near Sant'Andrea della Valle. He knows the protagonist, Cavaradossi, as well as his lover, the beautiful opera singer Tosca, likely know where he is hiding. So, Scarpia crafts a plan to convince Tosca to tell him where he is, all while executing Cavaradossi and taking Tosca for his own less than chivalrous desires. All while a church processing singing Te Deum is passing through. Pretty nasty stuff.
3. Giacomo Puccini: Turandot, Act I, "Non piangere, Liù," Finale.
Puccini's hugely ambitious masterpiece and final composition before his death (the final scene of the opera was rather infamously completed after his passing) is a departure from his typical verismo style.
The story takes place in ancient Peking. Princess Turandot, beautiful as she is cold, is seeking a suitor but will only accept one who can successfully answer her three riddles. Unfortunately, getting any of the answers wrong results in beheading. Like I said, cold as she is beautiful. The protagonist, the long-suffering Prince Calaf, is in the crowd when Turandot appears to order the beheading of a previous suitor. Instantly, he is taken with her beauty and will not be stopped in pursuing her. Despite protestations from his blind father and his aid (who herself is in love with Calaf), he rushes to the gong and hits it three times, the signal that another suitor is ready to answer Turandot's riddles. The crowd cries of his impending doom.
4. Giuseppe Verdi: Aida, Act II, "Gloria all' Egitto," Triumphal March.
In this scene, Radamès leads his army home to Egypt after victory over the Ethiopians and capturing the beautiful princess Aida. As they march into the city, the crowd celebrates their victory.