|Top 50 Operas and their Recordings|
|Top 50 Operas and their Recordings Continued|
Puccini: Turandot (1926)
Puccini’s final opera is a grand work set in Peking during “legendary” times. The opera contains the usual Puccini committed romanticism, and have even more subtle exotic harmonies and melodies than Butterfly. It contains some marvelous vocal writing which includes the very popular tenor aria “Nessun Dorma” and Turandot’s “In questa reggia”, one of the most powerful and thrilling arias ever composed for a dramatic soprano.
Turandot: Leinsdorf - Nilsson, Tebaldi, Björling
Turandot: Mehta - Sutherland, Pavarotti, Caballé
Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1816)
Rossini’s comic masterpiece is a bel canto gem, and one of the most popular Italian opera for good reasons. Each of the aria is a highlight, and some of them are truly amazing. The very popular “Largo al Factotum” is one of opera’s greatest set pieces, while “Ecco Ridente” is one of the most beautiful music Rossini ever wrote.
Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Galliera - Callas, Gobbi, Alva
Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Abbado - Berganza, Prey, Alva
Hermann Prey singing "Largo al factotum" from Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Strauss, R.: Elektra (1909)
This astonishing one act opera based on the Greek Tragedy is sumptuously Romantic yet dissonant. The melodies are not immediately apparent, but blossoms to the surface with repeated hearings. The opera features orchestrations that are virtuosic, complicated and with heavy counterpoint, polytonality, and superb vocal writing.
Elektra: Böhm - Borkh, Schech, Madeira
Elektra: Solti - Nilsson, Resnik, Krause
Strauss, R.: Der Rosenkavalier (1911)
This is the most popular opera by Richard Strauss. It is a perfect combination of good humor, high farce, deep sentiment and pleasant sentimentality. The music has a profusion of melody. One unique feature of this opera is the graceful waltzes that exudes 18th century atmosphere interspersed with discordant music. Highlights include the tenor’s “Italian aria”, the presentation of the Rose, and the famous final soprano Trio of Act 3.
Der Rosenkavalier: Karajan - Schwarzkopf, Ludwig, Stich-Randall
Der Rosenkavalier : Solti - Crespin, Minton, Donath
Strauss, R. : Salome (1905)
This is the opera that made Richard Strauss famous. It is the story of a biblical femme fatale who dances the famous Dance of the Seven Veil to possess John the Baptist’s severed head. The music’s orchestral color conveys the decadence of the narrative. Salome is also one of the most demanding soprano role. It requires volume, stamina and power of a true dramatic soprano.
Salome: Solti - Nilsson, Stolze, Wächter
Verdi: Aida (1872)
This opera in the grand tradition is known for the Triumphal March, extended dance sequences and mass scenes. But this spectacle is no more than a backdrop to an intense emotional drama about love and conflicting loyalties, and contains some of Verdi’s most passionate music.
Aida: Perlea - Milanov, Bjoerling, Barbieri
Aida: Karajan - Tebaldi, Bergonzi, Simionato
Aida: Solti - Price, Vickers, Gorr
Aida: Muti - Caballe, Cossotto, Domingo
Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera (1859)
Much of the music emphasizes the dark inevitability of the king’s fate, but the grimness is leavened by the mischievous character of Oscar (a soprano role), and by some wonderful ensembles and love duets.
Un Ballo in Maschera: Votto - Callas, di Stefano
Un Ballo in Maschera: Leinsdorf - Price, Bergonzi, Merrill
Verdi: Falstaff (1893)
Verdi’s final opera written when he was 80 displays the wit and exuberance created by a man half his age. It combines the plot of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and Falstaff-related scenes of Henry IV. The score is a miracle of subtle instrumental effects. It needs repeated listening to appreciate the rich Verdian melodies that just keep flowing and end as fast as they appear.
Falstaff: Karajan - Gobbi, Schwarzkopf, Moffo
Verdi: La Forza del Destino (1862)
This opera is an expansive work that marks Verdi’s artistic maturity. It is a sprawling story of passion, politics and revenge that features some of Verdi’s most dramatic music.
La Forza del Destino : Schippers - Price, Tucker, Merrill
La Forza del Destino : Gardelli - Arroyo, Bergonzi, Cappuccilli
Verdi: Otello (1887)
This opera, composed 16 years after Aida, shows Verdi achieving an extraordinary level of dramatic sophistication. In this stage of Verdi’s artistry, each act is a continual dramatic sweep where the set pieces are an integral part of the whole, intensifying the action rather than stopping it. Verdi and his librettist Boito adapted the Shakespeare work perfectly for opera.
Otello: Levine - Domingo, Scotto, Milnes
Otello: Serafin - Rysanek, Vickers, Gobbi
Verdi: Rigoletto (1851)
This tragic tale of the cursed hunchback is one of the most popular Verdi opera. It is easily appreciated because of its accessible melodies. It moves swiftly through a series of memorable arias, choruses and confrontations. The most famous is the tenor aria “La Donna e Mobile”
Rigoletto: Serafin - Callas, Di Stefano, Gobbi
Rigoletto: Kubelik - Scotto, Bergonzi, Fischer-Dieskau)
Rigoletto: Solti - Merrill, Moffo, Kraus
Placido Domingo singing "La donna e mobile" from Verdi's RigolettoVerdi: La Traviata (1853)
This opera is intimate Verdi, and perhaps the most popular of his works today. It is the story of a consumptive “society hostess” whose love for the upper-class Alfredo provokes the disapproval of his class-conscious father. The opera is known for its poignant arias and tragic, romantic story.
La Traviata: Giulini - Callas, di Stefano, Bastianini
La Traviata: Pritchard - Sutherland, Bergonzi, Merrill
La Traviata: C. Kleiber - Cotrubas, Domingo, Milnes
Verdi: Il Trovatore (1853)
Another tuneful Verdi opera, known for its supposedly incomprehensible plot of revenge and parent-child relationship. It has one of Verdi’s big tunes, the “Anvil Chorus”
Il Trovatore: Karajan - Price, Corelli, Bastianini, Simionato (lv 1962)
Il Trovatore: Mehta - Price, Domingo, Milnes, Cossotto (RCA 1969)
Il Trovatore: Guilini – Plowright, Domingo, Fassbender
Verdi: Don Carlo (1871)
This large scale Verdi opera has a glorious score. It is the story of the 16th century Spanish king Philip II and his son Don Carlo, whose fateful love for his young stepmother, Elizabeth, leads to his downfall. The opera is rife with emotional drama and political intrigue.
Don Carlo: Solti - Tebaldi, Bumbry, Bergonzi
Don Carlo: Giulini - Caballe, Verrett, Domingo
Don Carlos: Abbado - Ricciarelli, Domingo
Verdi: Simon Boccanegra (1857)
This opera is more admired than loved, with no show stopping arias or choruses, but has some of Verdi’s most beautiful dramatic music and some of his most glorious duets. It is the story of political intrigue in 14th century Genoa.
Simon Boccanegra: Abbado - Cappuccilli, Freni, Carreras
Wagner: Lohengrin (1850)
It is a romantic tale of Christian savior overcoming the powers of darkness. Although its pacing is slow, it contains music of great range and lyricism, featuring some marvelously powerful choral work and expanses of orchestral splendor. It contains the famous “Bridal March”.
Lohengrin: Kempe - Grümmer, Ludwig, Thomas
Lohengrin: Sawallisch - Silja, Varnay, Thomas
Wagner Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg (1868)
Der Meistersinger’s story is about the competition among Mastersingers, and a hymn to German art and a celebration of progressiveness in its culture. Although a comedy, it is a sublime work, with several magnificent set pieces. The final song contest is genuinely funny. The overture is very popular.
Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg: Kempe - Frantz, Grümmer, Schock,
Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg: Karajan - Edelmann, Schwarzkopf, Hopf
Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg: Karajan - Adam, Donath, Kollo
Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg: Kubelik - Stewart, Janowitz
Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg: Solti - van Dam, Mattila, Heppner, Lippert
Wagner : Das Rheingold (1869)
The first and the shortest part of the monumental, musically and thematically complex Ring Cycle. Das Rheingold is the prelude to the story of the main drama. The story starts with the blissful state of the Rhine maidens, an atmosphere reflected in the music, before the peace is destroyed through greed, and will culminate in the final scenes of Gotterdamerung. Highlights include the entry of the gods into Valhalla.
Das Rheingold: Karajan - Fischer-Dieskau, Veasey, Stolze
Wagner : Die Walkure (1870)
The second of the four operas of the massive Ring cycle. Highlights include “Ride of the Valkyries” and the “Magic Fire Music”.
Die Walkure: Knappertsbusch - Rysanek, Varnay, Vinay
Die Walkure: Leinsdorf - Nilsson, Brouwenstijn, Vickers
Ride of the Valkyries from Wagner's Die WalkureWagner : Siegfried (1876)
The third of the four operas of the epic Ring cycle, inspired by the story of the legendary hero Sigurd in Norse mythology. Highlights include the Preludes, “Forest Murmurs” and “Brunnhilde’s Awakening”.
Siegfried: Knappertsbusch - Windgassen, Varnay, Kuen, Hotter (lv 1956)
Siegfried: Böhm - Windgassen, Nilsson, Wohlfahrt, Adam (Philips 1966)
Wagner : Gotterdamerung (1876)
The last of the four Ring cycle operas contains some of the most powerful music of Wagner, and indeed all of opera. Highlights include “Dawn and Sigfried’s Rhine Journey”, “Siegfried’s March”, and the “Immolation Scene”.
Gotterdamerung: Knappertsbusch - Aldenhoff, Uhde, Weber, Varnay, Mödl
Gotterdamerung: Bohm – Windgassen, Nilsson, Neidlinger
Wagner: Tannhauser (1875)
This opera centers on the conflict between the sacred and the profane, the erotic and the spiritual. It is the most lush and easily accessible Wagnerian opera, and a great introduction to the composer’s works. The overture, “Venusberg Music”, the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” and “O Du, Mein Holder Abendstern” are just some of the highlights of this rich opera.
Tannhauser: Solti - Kollo, Dernesch, Ludwig
Tannhauser: Sinopoli – Domingo, Studer, Baltsa
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (1865)
Some people claim that this is Wagner’s greatest opera, which is essentially a five-hour love song. From the prelude onwards, the opera exudes a sense of sensuality and physical longing with its sinuous melodic lines and suspended harmonies. This yearning is only satisfied in the closing bars of the whole opera, Isolde’s famous “Liebestod” in which she sings herself to ecstatic oblivion, and finally achieves harmonic fulfillment.
Tristan und Isolde: Furtwängler - Flagstad, Suthaus, Thebom
Tristan und Isolde: Solti - Nilsson, Uhl, Resnik
Tristan und Isolde: Böhm - Nilsson, Windgassen, Meyer
Tristan und Isolde: Böhm - Nilsson, Windgassen, Ludwig
Tristan und Isolde: Bychkov - Eaglen, Heppner, DeYoung
See also Top 100 Classical Music