Opera 101 - suggestions needed

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Tommy_N, Feb 15, 2003.

  1. Tommy_N

    Tommy_N Stunt Coordinator

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    Hey everyone:

    I'd like to get into opera. Any good suggestions for some essential albums or good something that would be a good intro the genre?

    Preferably well recorded SACD.

    Thanks

    Tom
     
  2. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    Opera is the plural of opus, which is Italian for "works". Opera is a combination of music and theatrical staging. Just getting the audio alone misses something. Thank goodness we have DVD so we can have both the music and the theatrical aspects combined.

    Probably the greatest opera written is Mozart's "Don Giovanni" (Don Juan). Try the Image video DVD #ID4356PUDVD, which is a filming of a performance by the famous Teatro alla Scalla in Milan. The audio is 2 channel uncompressed PCM.

    Probably the most well-known opera is Bizet's "Carmen". A really great film is that directed by Francesco Rosi, available on video DVD on the Columbia DVD #04879. The audo is 2 channel DD.

    This ought to get you started.....
     
  3. Seth_S

    Seth_S Second Unit

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    Tom,

    Right now none of the major labels are releasing operas on SACD.

    The two best and most popular operas ever written are Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni

    My reccomended recordings of the two operas:

    Don Giovanni
    -Classic Recording: Giulini/Philharmonia Orchestra on EMI
    -Modern Recording: Gardiner/English Baroque Soloists on Archiv (DG)
    (Some people may scream "heresy", but I think that Gardiner's recording surpasses Giulini rightfully popular one. While Giulini has a stronger overall cast, Gardiner has the best Don and his orchestral support is simply superior.)
    -DVD: Muti/La Scala on Image

    Le nozze di Figaro
    -Classic Recording: Bohm/Berlin State Opera on DG
    -Modern Recording: Gardiner/Eniglish Baroque Soloists on Archiv (DG)
    (Gardiner is definitely the top pick here. Recordings of Figaro don't get much more exciting than his. Superbly cast - such a rarity that everyone is the right age for their part.)
    -DVD: Gardiner/English Baroque Soloists on Archiv (DG)

    Other great and popular operas:

    Verdi:
    -Aida - Muti/New Philharmonia Orchestra on EMI
    -La Traviata - Kleiber/Bayerisches Staatsorchester on DG

    Wagner:
    Der Ring des Nibelungen
    (Start with it on DVD before CD - it's a lot easier to understand the plot this way)
    -Boulez/Bayreuth on Philips
    -Levine/MET on DG
     
  4. Mikael Soderholm

    Mikael Soderholm Supporting Actor

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    Here's a vote for a more modern piece, Puccini's Turandot, written in 1924. I recommend the Decca CD 414274-2 with Zubin Mehta conducting, and Sutherland, Pavarotti and Caballé (among others) singing. I am sure it is also available on DVD. I saw this once in the Arena di Verona, a truly memorable experience...

    In the words of a good friend upon hearing it for the first time: "This music is so good it is almost rock music" [​IMG]
     
  5. Tommy_N

    Tommy_N Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks

    Tom
     
  6. andrew markworthy

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    For Bizet's 'Carmen', try to get the recording with Abbado conducting and Placido Domingo and Teresa Berganza in the lead roles. I saw the opening night of the production that the recording is based on at the Edinburgh Festival. The Edinburgh Festival audience is a notoriously tough nut to crack. There was a 40 minute standing ovation at the end. It is by far the most memorable musical event I've ever attended, and I've never wanted to see Carmen performed since - the memory of that night was just too perfect.

    Some more general notes:

    Operas vary enormously in musical style and content. the earliest are arguably those by Monteverdi and contempories. The one most often performed today is Monteverdi's 'The Corontation of Poppea'.

    Then you have the operas of Handel. Try 'Theodora' (any of the period instrument recordings should be fine). On the subject of Handel, you could also try his oratorios (basically operas but without a staged element to them - the singers perform it like a concert piece) - the obvious place to start is The Messiah.

    Haydn wrote a few operas, but the next port of call is Mozart. The following are essential listening: Marriage of Figaro, Cos Fan Tutti, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, The Clemency of Tito, and Idomineo. I would recommend period instrument recordings in all cases.

    Beethoven wrote one opera (Fidelio) but you must hear it.

    The 19th and 20th centuries are the high point of opera.

    Amongst the ones you must hear are:

    Puccini - La Boheme, Tosca [my favourite] and Madame Butterfly

    Verdi - Falstaff, Rigoletto, Don Carlos, La Traviata

    Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, The Ring Cycle, The Mastersingers of Nuremburg [try to see these on DVD, unless you seriously want to spend four hours at a stretch reading the tiny printing in libretti sheets]

    Stravinsky - The Rake's Progress

    Britten - Peter Grimes

    [personally I'd sooner have my teeth drilled than listen to the last two, but a lot of folks like them]

    I personally wouldn't make recommendations on recordings of these. The simple truth is that there are a plethora of recordings out there, and if you get into opera, something you'll rapidly find is that there is no such thing as a perfect opera recording [with the exception of my recommendation above]. There may be a great lead tenor, but lousy soprano, or the singers and great, but the orchestra's hopeless. I'd advise you to start with the cheapest recordings and if you like them, *then* work through the alternative recordings. Incidentally, this is one occasion when the 'best' recording may not be technically the best. Opera afficionados are notrious for favouring ancient mono recordings because of a special quality of the singer's voice or some such footling reason. This is a reasonable argument - which is better to listen to: a piano virtuoso recorded in mono, or next door's kid bashing out the scales in perfectly-recorded 5.1?

    Also bear in mind that operas contain a lot of recitative (the bits between the arias, or 'big songs' that are either spoken or delivered in 'almost singing' (listen to a couple of operas and you'll see what I mean). Unless you get *really* hooked on opera, you may be better off getting the highlights of the opera (the exception is Wagner's operas, where you really do have to hear the whole thing to enjoy it).
     
  7. Seth_S

    Seth_S Second Unit

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    I once concluded an answer to an essay question on a music theory test about bitonality (using Peter Grimes as an example) by saying,: If Peter Grimes is the best English opera written by an Englishman since Purcell, then God Save the Queen.
     
  8. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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    Ditto Mikael's suggestion of 'Turandot.' The version he mentions is old, but I think it has never been surpassed. A must-buy.
     
  9. JordanS

    JordanS Second Unit

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    I'm not sure which CD it is on, but, George Bizet's "Je Crois Entendre Encore" is unbelievable--------
     
  10. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Producer

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  11. andrew markworthy

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  12. Travis Kolesar

    Travis Kolesar Second Unit

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    One can't go wrong with Britten and Pears on London. I really enjoy this opera quite a bit, but I seem to be in the minority on that here. Can't stand Donizetti though.

    For other picks:
    R Strauss: Elektra, Salome, Der Rosenkavalier
    Wagner: Trisan und Isolde
    Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

    Most of my other recommendations wouldn't necessarily fall in a 101 sorta list. A good book to pick up is The Rough Guide to Opera. Good recommendations for repertoire and a large portion of their recordinging picks are decent too.
     
  13. andrew markworthy

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  14. Seth_S

    Seth_S Second Unit

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    I wouldn't call Peter Grimes opera 101 either. While it's one of the most significant operas on the 20th century, a piece with bitonality isn't exactly the best way to introduce someone to the world of opera. Mozart works the best as a intro because in can be appreciated on both a very straightforward and highly theory oriented level. Same for a good bit of Verdi's output like Aida. If you are going to dive into Wagner right away, you'll probably be end up hating his music unless you start out watching video recordings of his operas.
     
  15. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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  16. DanaA

    DanaA Screenwriter

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    Tommy,

    I'm new to opera too. I now own five, with the help of a good friend, who is an avid opera buff.

    Here are two tips which I've learned in my short enthusiasm for the art.

    1. Take the time to read the plot synopsis and the translations of the lyrics as you listen. It makes all the difference and is extremely rewarding and fulfilling, even if it takes effort.

    2. Consider some of the DVD opera productions. I have Kurt Moll, Anneliese Rothenberger Magic Flute CD on EMI and the DVD with The Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra on Deuche Grammophon and enjoy both.
     
  17. Chris A H

    Chris A H Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks for all the great suggestions.

    What performance would you recommend for La Boheme? Looking for DD or great 2-channel sound...


    Chris
     

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