Opera Discography

Some discs I think you need to have

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Full Operas
  Borodin -- Prince Igor  [see here for my translations based on the Igor tale] with Mikhail Kit as Prince Igor, Galina Gorchkova as Yaroslavna, Gegam Grigorian as Prince Vladimir Igoryevich, Vladimir Ognovienko as Vladimir Galitsky, Bulat Minjelkiev as Khan Khonchak, and Olga Borodina as Khonchakovna. Philips 442 537-2. Prince Igor rides to battle against the Polovtsians and is captured by their Khan. His son falls in love with the Khan's daughter, and meanwhile, his wife is being dethroned by her evil brother. Will Igor do the dishonorable thing and break his parole to the Khan, returning to Rus? Will his son stay with his true love? Will the comic relief minstrels switch sides once too often?
  Gounod -- Roméo et Juliette   with Yvonne Gall as Juliette, Agustarello Affre as Roméo, Marcel Journet as Frère Laurent, the beautiful baritone Alexis Boyer as Mercutio, and the elegant Edmond Tirmont as Tybalt; Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra-Comique de Paris, conducted by Francois Ruhlmann. VAIA 1064-3 This recording was made in 1912 on 53 sides, hence there is noise. But it's amazing how quickly your mind blocks the static out and leaves only the wonderful voices. It's Romeo and Juliet; you know the story, even if it's in French.
  Glinka -- Ruslan and Lyudmila   with Yevgeny Nesterenko as Ruslan, Bela Rudenko as Lyudmila, Tamara Sinyavskaya as Ratmir, Boris Morozov as Garlaf, and Nina Fomina as Gorislava; Chorus and Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, conducted by Yuri Simonov. BMG/Melodiya Classics 74321 29348 2. Based on Pushkin's classic poem, retelling an ancient Russian folk tale, and containing in its first scene an homage to Pushkin, this opera was the first of the "Russian" operas: without it, it's unlikely we would have Borodin's Prince Igor or anything by Tschaikovsky (anything operatic, anyway, such as Eugene Onegin). But Ruslan and Lyudmilla is worthy of praise on its own, especially for Glinka's superb use of musical themes. The Kievan princess Lyudmilla is magically kidnapped by the evil dwarf-sorceror Chernomor on her wedding day. Her husband Ruslan and two of her disappointed suitors, the Kazak Prince Ratmir and the knight Farlaf, search for her, but they are soon split up. Farlaf wants her for himself, and accepts the aid of the evil witch Naina. Ruslan is aided by the sorceror Finn. And one of Ratmir's wives, Gorislava, comes looking for him. Naina and Chernomor have a lot of tricks up their sleeves. Can Ratmir break free of the enchanted maidens? Will Ruslan ever find Chernomor, let alone Lyudmilla? Will the giant head help him or deceive him? And will Farlaf's treachery be discovered in time?
  Handel -- Tolomeo   with Jennifer Lane as Tolomeo, Brenda Harris as Seleuce, Andrea Matthews as Elisa, Mary Ann Hart as Alessandro, and Peter Castaldi as King Araspe; Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Richard Auldon Clark. VOX Classics VOX3 7530. Yes, that's right. Tolomeo and Alessandro are sung by women. Look here for why. Tolomeo, Prince of Egypt, in hiding on Cyprus (disguised as a peasant), wrongly believes that a) his brother Alessandro hates him and b) his wife Seleuce is dead. Both of these have come to Cyprus searching for him; the former is nearly drowned but rescued, the latter is also in disguise. Meanwhile, Princess Elisa loves the 'peasant', and Prince Alessandro meets and falls in love with Elisa. King Araspe, Elisa's brother, loves Seleuce and hates the 'peasant' she seems to prefer; moreover, he's scheming with Tolomeo's mother, Egypt's queen, to make sure that Tolomeo is killed. Complications, complications, complications ... and Tolomeo sings some wondrous death arias, courtesy of the rejected and angry Elisa... Is this another tragedy, filling with doomed lovers dying? Or has Handel got a happy ending to pull out of his sleeve? This recording is made more sumptuous by the addition of two entr'acte harpsichord suites.
  Mozart -- La clemenza di Tito [The mercy of Titus]   with Uwe Heilmann as Tito, Cecilia Bartoli as Sesto, Della Jones as Vitellia, and Barbara Bonney as Servilia; The Academy of Ancient Music Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Christopher Hogwood. L'Oiseau-Lyre D208356. Vitellia, angered that the Emperor Tito intends to marry another, schemes to have him assassinated by Sesto. Romantic entaglements between the intended bride and her true love (Sesto's sister and friend, respectively) ensue, as do fire and riot. Will the lovers marry? Will Sesto succeed? Will Tito finally get fed up and decide mercy is for the birds?
  Mozart -- Die Zauberflote [The Magic Flute]   with José van Damm as Sarastro, Karin Ott as the Queen of the Night, Edith Mathis as Pamina, Fransisco Araiza as Tamino, and Gottfried Hornik as Papageno; The Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Herbert von Karajan. DG 410 967-2. The young prince Tamino is beguiled by The Queen of the Night into killing her enemy Sarastro to rescue her daughter Pamina. However, Sarastro turns out to be a good magician, and Tamino and the bird-man Papageno must undergo mystic rituals to win life and love.
  Puccini -- Turandot   with Joan Sutherland as Turandot, Luciano Pavarotti as Calaf, and Montserrat Caballé as Liù. London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta. London 414 274-2. Princess Turandot poses three riddles to any suitor for her hand; if (when) they fail, they are executed. The incognito Prince Calaf, watching the young Prince of Persia die, is enraged by and then enamoured of the Princess. He challenges her; her courtiers try to dissuade him; he guesses the riddles correctly. But at Turandot's horror at being handed over, he proposes a counter-challenge: guess his name, and he'll die, fail and she must marry him. Will she guess? Will poor Liù, the lovelorn slave, yield to torture? Pavarotti's signature aria "Nessun dorma [no man shall sleep]" is in this opera.
  Purcell -- Dido and Æneas   with Véronique Gens as Dido, Nathan Berg as Æneas, Sophie Marin-Degor as Belinda, and Claire Brua as The Sorceress; Les Arts Florrissants, conducted by William Christie. Erato 4509-98477-2. Æneas, fleeing from the fall of Troy, comes to Carthage, where Dido, its queen, falls in love with him, although she knows he must someday leave. The Sorceress, who hates Dido, contrives to make Æneas believe that Jove has ordered him away from Africa to Italy the very day after Dido has finally surrendered to him. He tells her, she becomes first despondent then enraged, and after he leaves, she dies. This is an exquisitely lovely Baroque Restoration jewel, and our first "opera as we know it" in English.
  Strauss -- Der Rosenkavalier [The Knight of the Rose]   with Christa Ludwig as the Marschallin, Theo Adam as Baron Ochs, Tatiana Troyanos as Octavian, and Edith Mathis as Sophie; The Wiener Philharmoniker, conducted by Karl Böaut;hm. DG 445 338-2. The Marschallin is conducting an intrigue with the young nobleman Octavian. When her boorish, rustic cousin Baron Ochs comes to town, Octavian is forced to disguise himself as her maid to escape scandal. Baron Ochs wants to marry the young Sophie; the Marschallin recommends Octavian as the go-between. Octavian falls for Sophie; meanwhile, the Baron is chasing the "maid" for a bit of fun on the side. Will the Marschallin relinquish Octavian? Will Sophie's father break the engagement with the Baron? Will the Baron catch the maid -- and what will happen either way?
  Tschaikovsky -- Eugene Onegin   with Nuccia Focile as Tatyana, the spectacular Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Onegin, Olga Borodina as Olga, Neil Shicoff as Lensky, and Alexander Anisimov as Prince Gremin; St Petersburg Chamber Choir, Orchestre de Paris, conducted by Semyon Bychkov. Philips 438 235-2. The world-weary Onegin visits the country estate where his friend Lensky's fianceé Olga and her sister Tatyana live. Tatyana falls hard for Onegin and writes him a letter confessing her love. He turns her down; meanwhile, he has gotten into an argument with Lensky and kills him in a duel. He flees the country. Upon his return, he meets Tatyana again, now married to the elderly and doting Prince Gremin. Now he falls for her ... will Tatyana betray her husband for her now-requited love? Tatyana's "Letter Aria" is a remarkable tour-de-force.
Collections of Several Singers:
  Les Introuvables du Chant Mozartien [50 Years of Mozart Singing on Records]   EMI CMS 7 63750 2. Because of the age of the recordings, there is some noise, usually slight but on some tracks noticeable. This truly is named "The Irreplaceables". Among the artists here are Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Sena Jurinac, Aksel Schiotz, Lev Sibiriakov, Richard Tauber ... and many, many others, including my personal favorite tenor, the incomparable Hermann Jadlowker with the definitive "Fuor del mare" (they say that when Mozart wrote Idomeneo, his tenor was a sexagenarian who thought Mozart was a brat. Be that as it may, he must have had a voice to die for: since then, not until Jadlowker, and (I think) not since, has anyone sung the "long" aka "hard" version of this aria, with trills and coloratura like you've never heard before.)
  The Great Tenors - Volume I   Pearl Gemm CD 9337. Hermann Jadlowker in Mozart, Verdi, Rossini; also Richard Tauber, Felix Senius, Lauritz Melchior, Leo Selzak, and others.
  Great Singers in Moscow and Great Singers at the Mariinsky Theatre [which was the Kirov under the Soviets]   Nimbus NI 7876 and NI 7865, respectively. The best Russian singers of this period (1901-1913) were "Artists of the Imperial Theatres", singing at both the Bolshoi in Moscow and the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg, so there is some overlap in singers between these two discs. Because of the age of the recordings, there is some, but very slight, noise. Some of the artists [Leonid Sobinov, the elegant tenor; David Smirnov, a tenor of only slightly less skill; Lydia Lipkovskaya, the soprano; and Feodor Chaliapin, perhaps the greatest bass ever] are well-known in the west. Others are not: Antonina Nezhdanova, a soprano of surprising versatility and considered by Russians to be their best--her aria "Der Holle Rache" from Mozart's Magic Flute is simply astonishing; Andrei Labinsky and Lev Klement'yev, elegant tenors, the latter "heavy" enough to sing baritone roles such as Onegin; Yevgeniya Zbruyeva, a mezzo with an amazing range, a clear tone, and an expressive instrument; Lev Sibiryakov, who was second as a bass only to Chaliapin; and the only recording by the mezzo Yegeniya Popello-Davidova, whose sweet, creamy, slightly dark voice is the perfect complement to Nezhdanova in the stunning "Jasmine Canopy" from Lakmé. Another plus to these discs is their selections of arias from lesser-known Russia operas.
Single Singer Discs: (alphabetical)
  Florence Austral
singing Wagner, Mozart, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn. Pearl GEMM 9146. One of the finest dramatic sopranos of her day, Austral was stricken by MS.
  Maria Callas: La Divina   The incomparable, the diva, perhaps (in my opinion and that of many others) the greatest soprano ever. Anything by her is must-have. This collection (EMI 7 54702 2) is a good start.
  Joseph Hislop   singing Gounod, Donizetti, Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, Lehár, and others. Pearl GEMM 9956. Another in Pearl's series of collections of early singers, this one contains arias by the great Scottish tenor Hislop, who spent most of his career in Sweden.
  Songs and Dances of Death Dmitri Hvorostovsky
singing Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Rubinstein, Rachmaninoff, and Moussorgsky. Philips 438 872-2. This Russian baritone has a strong, dark, and lovely voice.
  Hermann Jadlowker: Dramatic Coloratura Tenor
everything he ever recorded, from Mozart (see above) to lieder by Strauss and Tchaikovsky, including his incomparable "Noch tönt mir ein Meer im Busen (Fuor del Mare)" and "Ecco ridente in cielo" from Rossini's "Barber of Seville". Marston 52017-2. Because of the age of the recordings, there is some noise, easily (in my opinion) overlooked. Okay, you knew it was coming, right? As soon as I found this, I had to buy it. As Tom Kaufman's liner notes say, "Jadlowker's voice and skills were unique." Simply a fantastic collection, 2 discs, and I can (and have) listened to the first disc for literally hours.
  Lotte Lehman: The Complete 1941 Radio Recital Cycle   Eklipse EKR CD18. Lehman was one of the greatest sopranos Germany ever produced, and a consummate artist. She left Germany in the '30s after a run-in with Göring, and sang until her retirement in 1951 in America. These radio broadcasts contain talks and lieder by Schumann, Brahms, Mozart, Wagner, Schubert, Medelssohn, and others, as well as the 1941 Christmas program.
  The Echoing Air Sylvia McNair sings the music of Henry Purcell.
Philips D 108361. With Christopher Hogswood and the Academy of Ancient Music, recorded for the tricentennial of Purcell's death. Lovely voice, lovely music.
  Jessye Norman: Classics Philips 434 161-2. The great American diva sings Verdi, Mozart, Bizet, Strauss, Purcell, Mahler, and others.
  Der Grosse Deutsche Tenor [The Great German Tenor].   CZS 7629932. An EMI collection of Fritz Wunderlich, a tenor of extraordinary and exquisite ability. His coloratura is second only to Jadlowker's, and his range is immense, as is his ability to interpret. Unfortunately for the world (and him!), he died only six years into his career, from a fall down a flight of stairs onto unforgiving flagstones. This collection's size (3 discs) allows us to guess how dominant a tenor he would have become.

Granted, these are only a few albums, and they're only my opinions. But in that opinion, you could do a lot worse than start with these.

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