Famous Books That Have Been Turned Into Operas

In our last post, we talked about famous operas that were originally books, books that may now have been lost to the contemporary mind. Today, we’ll talk about the same phenomenon from a slightly different perspective. These books are famous on their own to modern readers. Many people may not know, however, that they have been adapted into operas. Just like the other list, this one is by no means exhaustive. To get our interest going though, here are some famous books that have been turned into operas.


Famous Books That Have Been Turned Into Operas


Anna Karenina

As we noted in the last list, Russian tragedies make great books and operas alike. It makes sense then that this famous tale of the wife who strayed and suffered would be turned into an opera (although the opera is in English). Composed by David Carlson, a recording can be sampled and purchased here.


Cold Mountain

Stories of war also make for compelling theater, and this National Book Award winner was recently turned into an opera by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Jennifer Hidgon. “Our Beautiful Country” from the original Santa Fe production can be heard below, and a recording can be purchased here.


The Great Gatsby

It is particularly wonderful when famous American books are turned into wonderful American operas, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic is one of many on this list that fits this description. John Harbison turned this book into an opera just before the new millennium. A recording can be purchased here


The Handmaid’s Tale

It is not common that operas are set in the future, yet Danish composer Poul Ruders did just that by adapting Margart Atwood’s novel into an opera. Recordings can be sampled and purchased here


The Little Prince

The charming French classic of the mysterious little prince from another planet was turned into an English opera by Rachel Portman. Although she primarily writes film scores, the entirety of this charming opera can be found below. Furthermore, the DVD is for sale here.


Little Women

Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel of four sisters was turned into an opera by Mark Adamo with great success. Many recordings of the opera are available to listen to and purchase. A DVD can be found here and an audio recording here


Moby Dick

As noted in our last list, Herman Melville’s interest in the sea has served opera well. Jake Heggie adapted this famous novel of the mad whaling-boat captain into an opera with powerful results. Excerpts can be heard below, and a DVD is available to buy here.


The Scarlet Letter

German composer Walter Damrosch set this American novel to music in 1895, making it the oldest opera on this list. A segment can be heard here.



The Shining

Easily the newest opera on this list, Stephen King’s novel received an operatic makeover by Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Paul Moravec and premiered earlier this month at Minnesota Opera. A reduction of the opening scene can be heard below.


War and Peace

To round out our Russian books turned into opera, this opera by composer Sergei Prokofiev features over seventy characters. Another fun fact: this was the first opera to be performed at the Sydney Opera House. A selection from the opera can be heard below, and a DVD is for sale here.


Of Mice and Men and Wuthering Heights

These famous novels are placed together because they were both turned into operas by composer Carlisle Floyd in the 20th century. While neither necessarily outshines his opera Susannah, they both have merits of their own. An excerpt from Of Mice and Men can be heard below, and an audio recording of Wuthering Heights is available here.


An audio recording of Of Mice and Men is available here.



Wuthering Heights… again

This classic seems to be a popular choice for composers as Bernard Herman brought the novel to the operatic stage as well. The aria “I have dreamt” can be heard below, and an audio recording of the opera can be purchased here.


After combining these two lists, it seems pretty safe to say that books and operas make excellent pairings. In fact, it would be wonderful if someday there were so many operas based on books that an entire book had to be made about it.  


What are your favorite books that have been turned into operas?


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