Opera Special Feature: 101 Best Opera CDs
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101 Best

Saint-Saens: Samson et Dalila
Rita Gorr, Jon Vickers, Ernest Blanc, Anton Diakov
Orchestra of the Paris Opera
Georges Prêtre, conductor
EMI

Prêtre and Gorr have this music in their fingertips, while Vickers, as usual, leaves his mark on the role of Samson despite his mangling of the text. Prêtre knows the difference between vulgarity and exoticism and steers the work through to a devastating conclusion.


Schubert: Songs
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Gerald Moore, piano
DGG

Dietrich Fishcer-Dieskau, baritone; Gerald Moore, Karl Engel, piano
EMI

Gérard Souzay, baritone; Dalton Baldwin, piano
Philips

Elly Ameling, soprano; Dalton Baldwin, Rudolf Jansen, piano
Philips

Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano; Gerald Moore, piano
EMI

Die Schöne Müllerin
Fritz Wunderlich, tenor; Hubert Giesen, piano
DGG

Die Winterreise
Hans Hotter, baritone; Michael Raucheisen, piano
DGG

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen
Elly Ameling, soprano; Joerg Demus, piano; Hans Deinzer, clarinet
Harmonia Mundi

F-D gives us about two thirds of Schubert's production in his DGG set, much of it unmissable, although occasionally there is a feeling that both he and Moore are sight-reading. It nonetheless remains one of the monuments of music and record-making. The comparisons with the early EMI set are fascinating. Souzay offers a different but no less valid approach, while Ameling's purity often captures the essence of Schubert. The Baker set, long unavailable, introduced us to some of the masterpieces slumbering among the pages of the complete songs. Wunderlich's freshness is ideal for the Wanderer, while the youthful Hotter captures the wintry bleakness of the later cycle. Ameling's early recording of the song with clarinet obbligato is the perfect celebration of spring.


Schumann: Dichterliebe
Fritz Wunderlich, piano; Hubert Giesen, piano
DGG

Wunderlich in the original tenor keys exactly captures the mood of Schumann's Heine settings, every one of his vocal cords in place so that his mellifluousness contributes immensely to our enjoyment.


Strauss, Richard: Vier letzte Lieder
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano
Philharmonia Orchestra
Otto Ackermann, conductor
EMI

Lisa della Casa, soprano
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Karl Böhm, conductor
Decca

Sena Jurinac, soprano
Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Fritz Busch, conductor
EMI

The three Straussian sopranos of the 50s and 60s discovering a new work, and all bringing their own sterling qualities, aided by their conductors. And note, the work was played much faster than it is today when too many singers and conductors confuse slowness with profundity.


Strauss, Richard: Arabella
Lisa della Casa, Hilde Gueden, Ira Malaniuk, Anton Dermota, George London, Otto Edelmann
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
George Solti, conductor
Decca

The perfect fusion of singer and role, you can almost sense the physical beauty of Della Casa in her most famous role. London's vocal qualities did not make him the ideal recording artist but the sexiness does come through.


Strauss, Richard: Ariadne auf Naxos
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Rita Streich, Irmgard Seefried, Rudolf Schock, Herman Prey, Karl Dönch
Philharmonia Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conductor
EMI

Maria Reining, Alda Noni, Irmgard Seefried, Max Lorenz, Erich Kunz, Paul Schoeffler
Vienna Opera Orchestra
Karl Böhm, conductor
Koch-Schwann

The first is a classic Legge product, perfect in all its details, impeccably performed yet quite alive, the second a document of a performance celebrating the composer's 80th birthday, with performance hitches which matter little when listening to Reining soar through the role with an ease unavailable to Schwarzkopf. Both are essential to an understanding of the work.


Strauss, Richard: Capriccio
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Eberhard Waechter, Hans Hotter
Philharmonia Orchestra
Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor
EMI

How did Legge consistently manage to turn out such magnificent recordings? This first recording of Strauss' ultimate opera remains unsurpassed to this day, and with such a dream cast how can we expect anything else.


Strauss, Richard: Elektra
Astrid Varnay, Walburga Wegner, Elisabeth Höngen, Set Svanholm, Paul Schoeffler
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Arlecchino

The torrents roar in the persons of Varnay and Höngen and the masterly control of Reiner ensures that nothing goes astray, either in the pit or onstage.


Strauss, Richard: Die Frau ohne Schatten
Léonie Rysanek, Christel Goltz, Elisabeth Höngen, Hans Hopf, Paul Schoeffler
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Karl Böhm, conductor
Decca

The earliest of Böhm's recordings remains a monument, recorded because the participants wanted to even though Decca thought the risk was too great. It remains the best recording, for the young Rysanek, the warmth of Schoeffler, the demoniac qualities of Höngen and the devotion of the conductor.


Strauss, Richard: Salomé
Ljuba Welitsch, Elisabeth Höngen, Set Svanholm, Brian Sullivan, Hans Hotter
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, conductor
Myto

The myth restored to currency so that we can all hear that Welitsch as Salomé was unique. And with the towering Jochanaan of Hotter in amazing voice and the biting Herodias of Höngen, all under the incandescent baton of Reiner, just sit back - if you can - and regret you weren't there.


Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress
Hilde Gueden, Blanche Thebom, Eugene Conley, Mack Harrell
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Igor Stravinsky, conductor
Sony

Another treasure lying in Sony's vaults, with the best pair of lovers and Stravinsky conducting a performance prepared by Fritz Reiner. Who could ask for more?



















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