Opera Special Feature: 101 Best Opera CDs
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101 Best

Wagner: Wesendonck Lieder
Eileen Farrell, soprano
New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein, conductor

A tribute to one of America's most distinguished sopranos whose peculiar career covered an immense terrain, but she sure had the amplitude for Wagner. Bernstein is at his most inspired as well in music which was not generally his predilection.

Wagner: Der Fliegende Holländer
Leonie Rysanek, Fritz Uhl, George London, Josef Greindl
Bayreuth Orchestra and Chorus
Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor

Feel the heat rising from the stage as Rysanek and London come face to face, with Sawallisch doing his best to keep the temperature under control.

Wagner: Lohengrin
Elisabeth Grümmer, Christa Ludwig, Jess Thomas, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gottlob Frick, Otto Wiener
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Rudolf Kempe, conductor

A studio recording which is difficult to equal, with Grümmer finally given her due, Ludwig as demoniac as one could wish, F-D easily capturing the hesitations of his role and even Thomas rising to unexpected heights. Kempe more than justifies his reputation.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Gundula Janowitz, Brigitte Fassbaender, Sandor Konya, Gerhard Unger, Thomas Stewart, Thomas Hemsley, Keith Engen, Franz Crass
Bavarian Radio Chorus and Orchestra
Rafael Kubelik, conductor

Why DGG never issued this version and thought they could do better with Domingo and F-D is one of the mysteries of the recording industry. An ideal cast supported by an ideal orchestra and a conductor whose early retirement due to illness can only be regretted make this a major event.

Wagner: Parsifal
Marthe Mödl, Wolfgang Windgassen, George London, Herman Uhde, Ludwig Weber
Bayreuth Chorus and Orchestra
Hans Knappersbutsch, conductor

The start of the post-War new Bayreuth, Kna doing his thing without in the least understanding or approving what was happening onstage. Somehow he provided the perfect ballast for Wieland Wagner's stripped-down vision, with a cast that takes involvement tonew heights.

Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Kirsten Flagstad, Hilde Konetzni, Elisabeth Höngen, Set Svanholm, Max Lorenz, Gunther Treptow, Ferdinand Frantz, Josef Herrmann, Ludwig Weber
Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala
Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor

Astrid Varnay, Regina Resnik, Ira Malaniuk, Maria von Ilosvay, Ramon Vinay, Wolfgang Windgassen, Hans Hotter, Ludwig Weber, Hermann Uhde
Bayreuth Chorus and Orchestra
Clemens Krauss, conductor

These ear-openers show that it is possible to be profound without coming to a total standstill, and the voices are often far more solid than those encountered today. Furt is unique even though some pretend that his post-War performances came nowhere near equalling those before the War - this is pretty hot as is. Krauss lightens the entire texture without trivializing Wagner so that the movement is constant.

Wagner: Tannhäuser
Victoria de los Angeles, Grace Bumbry, Wolfgang Windgassen, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Josef Greindl
Bayreuth Orchestra and Chorus
Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor

Remember the scandal because of "der schwarze Venus", which certainly did nothing to hold back Bumbry's career? You can now hear what all the fuss was about, before she became one of the world's most boring major singers. The uproar certainly allows us to focus on a performance worthy of preservation.

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
Kirsten Flagstad, Sabine Kalter, Lauritz Melchior, Herbert Janssen, Emmanuel List
Orchestra and Chorus of Covent Garden
Fritz Reiner, conductor

Kirsten Flagstad, Blanche Thebom, Ludwig Suthaus, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Josef Greindl
Philharmonia Orchestra
Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor

An early relic of the historic Flagstad-Melchior partnership, under the fiery baton of the young Reiner, balanced against a legacy from the world and War-weary German with a Flagstad still capable of almost any miracle except a high C. Both are essential.

Wagner: Die Walküre
Marjorie Lawrence, Lotte Lehmann, Kerstin Thorborg, Lauritz Melchior, Friedrich Schorr, Emmanuel List
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Erich Leinsdorf, conductor

One of those magical performances, fortunately captured (even in execrable sound) because you wish you had been there. Everyone is "on", so that you will hear Melchior in the longest "Wälse" cries ever perpetrated without sounding vulgar, Lehmann thrilling beyond one's wildest dreams, Schorr in a state of grace. And don't forget Marjorie Lawrence of the short-lived career who started out singing Brunnhilde in French.

Weber: Der Freischütz
Elisabeth Grümmer, Rita Streich, Hans Hopf, Kurt Böhme
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor

Grümmer in her greatest role, unsurpassed Streich and worthy colleagues, all sustained by Furtwängler in performance at Salzburg. You want atmosphere, well it's here in full, especially during the Wolf's Glen Scene.

Wolf: Italienisches Liederbuch
Irmgard Seefried, soprano; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Erik Werba, piano

The excitement of two major talents in Wolf's Italian compilation is barely offset by the lesser talent of Werba, but the spontaneity makes this a more living monument than the otherwise excellent version on EMI with Schwarzkopf and F-D accompanied by the otherwise superior Gerald Moore.

Wolf: Spanisches Liederbuch
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Gerald Moore, piano

Schwarzkopf's sophistication is here much more at home than in the Italian songs, and the care taken by all three participants does not prevent inspiration shining through at every moment.

Wolf: Recital
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano; Wilhelm Furtwängler, piano
Fonit Cetra

Furtwängler was extremely nervous when it came time to appear on stage as pianist for this recital captured live at Salzburg, but the insights and affection are apparent throughout. Schwarzkopf is at her best.

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