Opera Special Feature: 101 Best Opera CDs
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101 Best

Pfitzner: Palestrina
Nicolai Gedda, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Herman Prey, Karl Ridderbusch, Helen Donath, Brigitte Fassbaender
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Rafael Kubelik, conductor

Kubelik is the man to bring Pfitzner to life, searching out the inner drama but tightly controlling the Council Scene in Act Two. Gedda, F-D, and the very large cast are inside their roles and if one is ever to come to terms with this long, sprawling work it is through this recording.

Poulenc: Songs
Pierre Bernac, baritone; Francis Poulenc, piano
EMI, Sony, Adès

Gérard Souzay, baritone; Dalton Baldwin, baritone

Others have tried, but Bernac the creator remains unique with his fragile voice but extraordinary diction. Souzay is able to find his own interpretations and the collaboration with Baldwin remains unsurpassed.

Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites
Denise Duval, Liliane Berton, Régine Crespin, Rita Gorr, Denise Scharley, Paul Finel, Xavier Depraz
Orchestra and Chorus of the Paris Opera
Pierre Dervaux, conductor

For once, French EMI didn't miss the boat. The first French cast took their production into the studios and for 35 years reigned supreme; they are still ahead of the competition, but with the above cast what else can you expect.

Poulenc: Les Mamelles de Tirésias
Denise Duval, Jean Giraudeau
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra-Comique
André Cluytens, conductor

La Voix Humaine
Denise Duval
Orchestra of the Opéra Comique
Georges Prêtre, conductor

Denise Duval at her high point in Poulenc's setting of Appollinaire's farce and Cocteau's melodrama. Her deadpan delivery works to advantage in both instances, and the support of Cluytens and Prêtre is immeasurable.

Puccini: La Boheme
Albanese, McKnight, Peerce, Valentino, Cehanovsky, Moscona
NBC Symphony Orchestra
Arturo Toscanini, conductor

Victoria de los Angeles, Lucine Amara, Jussi Bjoerling, Robert Merrill, John Reardon, Giorgio Tozzi
RCA Orchestra
Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor

Mirella Freni, Mariella Adani, Nicolai Gedda, Mario Sereni, Mario Basiola, Jr., Ferrucio Mazzoli
Chorus and Orchestra of the Rome Opera
Thomas Schippers, conductor

Three indispensable recordings, Toscanini and Beecham poles apart though both claimed the composer's approval. Beecham's cast is fruitier than Toscanini's and they possess admirable breath control. Schippers offers a synthesis with a youthful cast who revel in the high jinks but are sufficiently lyric to provide us with the necessary goose bumps at the right moments.

Puccini: Tosca
Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Tito Gobbi
Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala
Victor de Sabata, conductor

Three artists at their peak with a conductor whose control of the dramatic tension remains unsurpassed, coddled by the Legge touch: a recording which remains unique after more than 40 years.

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