Opera Special Feature: 101 Best Opera CDs
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101 Best

Mahler: Kindertotenlieder
Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Hallé Orchestra
Sir John Barbirolli, conductor
EMI

Kathleen Ferrier, contralto
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestr'a
Bruno Walter, conductor
EMI

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone
Philharmonia Orchestra
Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor
EMI

No Mahlerian should be without these three recordings, very different in their approaches but each of them infinitely touching, from the starkness of Ferrier to the more overt emotion of Baker via the early F-D.


Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
Kathleen Ferrier, contralto; Julius Patzak, tenor
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Bruno Walter, conductor
Decca

Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; Fritz Wunderlich, tenor
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Otto Klemperer, conductor
EMI

Maureen Forrester, contralto; Richard Lewis, tenor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, conductor
RCA

Again, three versions for any Mahlerian, to be complemented at will by Haitink, Giulini, or Bernstein with Fischer-Dieskau, until now the only baritone to have recorded the work. Walter and Klemperer are authoritative in their direct descent from the composer and have fabulous soloists. Reiner is out of his usual domain, but the control he exercises and his collaboration with one of the few singers who might be considered a rival of Ferrier is exceptional.


Massenet: Manon
Victoria de los Angeles, Henri Legay, Michel Dens, Jean Borthayre
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra-Comique
Pierre Monteux, conductor
EMI

Not the most recent recording, but de los Angeles at her peak with the unexpected Monteux in the pit; they galvanize Legay into a performance way beyond his capacities. Dens and Borthayre are representative of a school of French baritone singing which seems to have disappeared today.


Massenet: Werther
Georges Thill, Ninon Vallin, Germaine Féraldy
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra-Comique
Elie Cohen, conductor
EMI

This 1930s recording may not be to everyone's taste, but it should be heard to have an idea of a tradition which has largely disappeared. The care taken over diction and nuance remain models for anyone wishing to interpret this opera. If the sound bothers you, you won't go too far wrong with Kraus, Troyanos and Plasson, also on EMI.

Mendelssohn: Elijah
Elly Ameling, Annelies Burmeister, Peter Schreier, Theo Adam
Gewandhaus Orchestra
Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor
Philips

Gwyneth Jones, Janet Baker, Nicolai Gedda, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Philharmonia Orchestra
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, conductor
EMI

One in German, one in the original English, both impeccable, although Ameling is far more angelic than Jones. Both are necessary.


Moussorgsky: Boris Godunov
Boris Christoff, Nicolai Gedda, Kim Borg, Eugenia Zareska
French National Radio Orchestra
Issay Dobrowen, conductor
EMI

This will not be to everyone's liking as cuts are rampant, the chorus is weak, the orchestration is that of Rimsky-Korsakov, and doubling of roles poses problems, particularly in the case of Christoff's distinctive voice, here heard in all its freshness. The young Gedda is the other miracle among the singers, while Dobrowen finds the essence of the music. The new Abbado recording offers Moussorgsky unadulterated with an excellent cast.


Moussorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death
Galina Vishnevskaya, soprano; Mstislav Rostropovich, piano
Philips

Netania Davrath, soprano; Erik Werba, piano
Vanguard

Two opposing views, Vishnevskaya all drama but chilling with the collaboration of Rostro at the piano of which he is no less master than of the cello, Davrath music incarnate but equally chilling with the subdued Werba.


Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito
Maria Casula, Lucia Popp, Teresa Berganza, Brigitte Fassbaender, Werner Krenn, Tugomir Franc
Chorus and Orchestra of the Vienna Opera
Istvan Kertesz, conductor
Decca

The first recording of Mozart's next to last opera to reveal its drama, with Kertesz in a state of grace as well as the three famous ladies. Casula's peculiar voice is very clearly that intended for the role of Vitellia while Krenn is a bit overshadowed.


Mozart: Cosi fan Tutte
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Nan Merriman, Lisa Otto, Léopold Simoneau, Rolando Panerai, Sesto Bruscantini
Philharmonia Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conductor
EMI

Yet another product of the Legge magic, with everyone in peak form. There's nothing like it.


Mozart: Don Giovanni
Cesare Siepi, Fernando Corena, Léopold Simoneau, Walter Berry, Gottlob Frick, Elisabeth Grümmer, Lisa della Casa, Rita Streich
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Dmitri Mitropulous, conductor
Sony

Eberhard Waechter, Giuseppe Taddei, Luigi Alva, Piero Cappucilli, Gottlob Frick, Joan Sutherland, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Graziella Sciutti
Philharmonia Orchestra
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor
EMI

The two stars of a distinguished discography for this most mythic of the Mozart operas. Giulini welds his disparate forces into an indissoluble unity, while Mitropulous is blessed with the most complete Giovanni and Anna and most mellifluous Ottavio ever recorded. The on-stage provenance of the Salzburg version is to the advantage of a total involvement.


Mozart: Idomeneo
Margarita Rinaldi, Pauline Tinsley, George Shirley, Ryland Davies
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Colin Davis, conductor
Philips

Much more satisfying than Davis' remake as the dramatic tension is higher in this version (still to be reissued) than any other yet recorded, with the engagement of all participants. Tinsley is terrifying in all senses of the word but remains a force of nature, Shirley makes the most of his role while Rinaldi is the sweetest of Ilias.


Mozart: The Magic Flute
Tiana Lemnitz, Erna Berger, Irma Beilke, Helge Rosewaenge, Gerhard Hüsch, Wilhelm Strienz
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor
EMI

The oldest recording of Mozart's Masonic farrago but still the best. Beecham's genius is given free reign and one can hear the likes of Lemnitz and Rosewaenge, two healthy voices capable of a range of nuance uncommon today, the accuracy of Berger, the delicacy of Hüsch and the profundity of Strienz.


Mozart: Marriage of Figaro
Lisa della Casa, Hilde Gueden, Suzanne Danco, Alfred Poell, Cesare Siepi
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Erich Kleiber, conductor
Decca

After 40 years still tops in the field for the leadership of Kleiber and an incomparable cast, with reserves for Poell whose Italian is so Germanic that it grates.


Mozart: Ch'io mi scordi di te
(concert aria for soprano and orchestra with piano obbligato, K. 505)
Teresa Berganza, messo-soprano
London Symphony Orchestra
John Pritchard, conductor
Decca

Mozart's declaration of love for his first Susanna, with piano and voice intertwined. Berganza offers an ardent interpretation.
















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