Opera Special Feature: 101 Best Opera CDs
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101 Best

Haendel: Alcina
Joan Sutherland, Graziella Sciutti, Mirella Freni, Teresa Berganza, Monica Sinclair, Luigi Alva, Ezio Flagello
London Symphony Orchestra
Richard Bonynge, conductor

Purists say what you will, this is one of the most stupendous recordings of a Haendel opera, the major participants all in major form in a major work difficult to bring to life today - will Peter Sellars succeed with Christie in Paris? A musicologically authentic version with the late Arleen Augér and Richard Hickox on EMI is a worthy alternative.

Haendel: Giulio Cesare
Barbara Schlick, Jennifer Larmore, Bernarda Fink, Derek Lee Ragin, Marianne Roerholm, Furio Zanasi
Concerto Köln
René Jacobs, conductor
Harmonia Mundi

The current model for performing Haendel, Jacobs is very much aware that voices with character are needed; this recording is deficient in its heroine but Larmore and Fink more than compensate.

Haendel: Hercules
Jennifer Smith, Sarah Walker, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, John Tomlinson
English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

Another aspect of Haendel's genius, this dramatic oratorio is in fact an opera, performed with passion by Gardiner and Co., Sarah Walker standing out as the terminally jealous Dejanira.

Haendel: Cantatas
Helen Watts, contralto
English Chamber Orchestra
Raymond Leppard, conductor

Janet Baker, contralto
English Chamber Orchestra
Raymond Leppard, conductor

The works of Haendel hold no terrors for Watts and Baker, two sure values during the 60s and 70s, who make these works live as few others have been able to do. Baker has not yet been reissued; for some inexplicable reason EMI is very stingy with their Baker holdings.

Haydn: The Creation
Gundula Janowitz, Fritz Wunderlich, Werner Krenn, Walter Berry, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conductor

Von Karajan still reigns supreme in one of the most joyous recordings with an incomparable group of singers. Listen to Wunderlich and one can only regret his early death, so that Krenn had to be brought in to sing the recitatives. Janowitz, Berry and F-D are all very much present.

Haydn: The Seasons
Elsie Morrison, Alexander Young, Michael Langdon
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor

Another recording in limbo, sung, oh horror, in English translation, but the joys of Beecham in Haydn must be sampled. You won't go too far wrong with Böhm's version with the Vienna Symphony, even though it misses the lightness of touch Beecham brought to his music-making.

Hindemith: Mathis der Maler
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Rose Wagemann, Ursula Koszut, William Cochran, Gerd Feldhoff, Manfred Schmidt, Peter Meven, Alexander Malta, Donald Grobe
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Rafael Kubelik, conductor

Not an opera easily accessible, but this is the recording which will help us to uncover the treasures within a densely scored orchestra. F-D is his usual impeccable and communicative self, abetted by Kubelik who uncovers the human core of a knotty work.

Humperdinck: Hansel und Gretel

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth Grümmer, Maria von Ilosvay, Josef Petternich, Anny Felbermayer, Else Schürhoff
Philharmonia Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conductor

When Walter Legge put his mind to it, he could mastermind recordings which retain the interest and - even more - their importance after 40 years. Von Karajan's light touch, the solid parents and the two Elisabeths in a traditional interpretation are still hard to equal.

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