Opera Special Feature: 101 Best Opera CDs
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101 Best

Verdi: Requiem
Maria Stader, Mariana Radev, Helmut Krebs, Kim Borg
RIAS Symphony Orchestra
Ferenc Fricsay, conductor

Zinka Milanov, Bruna Castagna, Jussi Björling, Nicola Moscona
NBC Symphony Orchestra
Arturo Toscanini, conductor

Two versions surprisingly close in approach, the Toscanini with Milanov and Björling in prime form in a pressing which requires much effort to penetrate to the essence; Fricsay offers a devotional interpretation with soloists who are less overtly operatic but impressive nonetheless.

Verdi: Aida
Leontyne Price, Rita Gorr, Carlo Bergonzi, Mario Sereni, Cesare Siepi
Metropolitan Opera and Chorus
George Solti, conductor

Leontyne Price, Rita Gorr, Jon Vickers, Robert Merrill, Giorgio Tozzi
Rome Opera Orchestra and Chorus
George Solti, conductor

Myto offers Solti and the ladies the year after their official recording on RCA, but live from the Met, the conductor particularly inspired. Choosing between Bergonzi and Vickers is more difficult, both leaving their mark on the role of Radames, but there is no doubt when it come to the others. A perfect illustration of the difference between an excellent studio recording and an inspired live recording.

Verdi: Don Carlo
Montserrat Caballé, Shirley Verrett, Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, Ruggiero Raimondi, Giovanni Foiani, Simon Estes
Orchestra and Chorus of Covent Garden
Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor

One of Verdi's greatest operas in a performance less emphatic than some but extremely musical and sensitive, with Giulini in excellent form inspiring his cast to untold heights. The two basses may not be the equal of various predecessors in their roles, but they know the ropes. Despite reserves, still one of the best. Giulini's 1958 performance from Covent Garden on Myto has its partisans but this is one instance where the studio version is preferable.

Verdi: Falstaff
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Anna Moffo, Nan Merriman, Fedora Barbieri, Luigi Alva, Tito Gobbi, Rolando Panerai
Philharmonia Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conductor

The ultimate opera in an ultimate performance, the ensembles going like clockwork, the singers inspired, the text savored by all.

Verdi: La Forza del Destino
Renata Tebaldi, Oralia Dominguez, Franco Corelli, Ettore Bastianini, Boris Christoff, Renato Capecchi
Orchestra and Chorus of Il Teatro San Carlo, Naples
Francesco Molinari-Pradelli
Golden Age of Opera

Renata Tebaldi, Fedora Barbieri, Mario del Monaco, Aldo Protti, Cesare Siepi, Renato Capecchi
Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Dimitri Mitropoulos, conductor

One of the most difficult of Verdi's operas to bring to life, but these two live performances with Tebaldi far less torpid than usual should have you sitting on the edge of your chair. Corelli and del Monaco were both far more exciting in the theater than in the studio, the basses are stupendous and Mitropoulos unfortunately left far too little trace of his work in the opera house.

Verdi: Otello
Elisabeth Rethberg, Giovanni Martinelli, Lawrence Tibbett
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Ettore Panizza, conductor
Music and Arts

This 1938 recording remains in a class of its own, even today. Panizza doesn't tarry except when appropriate, and three supernatural forces will knock you over.

Verdi: Rigoletto
Renata Scotto, Fiorenza Cossotto, Carlo Bergonzi, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Ivo Vinco
Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala
Rafael Kubelik, conductor

One of the most intelligent sopranos of the post-Callas era, one of the most elegant of tenors, the most intellectual baritone of our time and a humanitarian conductor give us one of the most searing versions of Verdi's classic opera.

Verdi: Simon Boccanegra
Elisabeth Rethberg, Giovanni Martinelli, Lawrence Tibbett, Leonard Warren, Ezio Pinza
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Ettore Panizza, conductor

Verdi's most sombre opera, in a perfect performance which only the more recent version of Abbado approaches, but perfect casting in this case wins the day.

Verdi: La Traviata
Rosa Ponselle, Frederick Jagel, Lawrence Tibbett
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Ettore Panizza, conductor

Another Met performance, but how many legends of the past can be heard today in live performances, and here you get not only Ponselle but Tibbett, so you can find out what the shouting was about.

Verdi: Il Trovatore
Zinka Milanov, Fedora Barbieri, Jussi Björling, Leonard Warren, Nicola Moscona
RCA Victor Orchestra
Renato Cellini, conductor

Despite a nonentity in the pit, the four principal singers raise this to the pantheon of recorded performances. Others may have made more of individual elements of the opera, but the totality of this version remains an object lesson.

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