Music in the Round #25 Recordings In The Round: Special Opera Edition

Sidebar: Recordings In The Round: Special Opera Edition

Soloists: Sten Byriel, Helene Gjerris, Morten Suurballe, Jon Ketilsson, Johnny Van Hal,
Poul Elming, John Lundgren, Susanne Resmark, Camilla Nylund, Anne Margrethe Dahl. Thomas Dausgaard, Danish National Symphony & Choir.
DaCapo 6.220523-24 (2 SACD/CDs)

Fasten your seatbelts! From the spine-tingling opening through passages of power, beauty, and even great nastiness, the opera Antikrist, by Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893–1952), stands, for me, as the latest in a historic series of works that stem from the same root as Milton's Paradise Lost. This modern depiction of the eternal struggle of good vs evil is expressed with a dramatic ferocity that I find magnetic. Of course, such passionate music offers many "audiophile" opportunities, and DaCapo's sound is powerful, spacious, and immediate. Langgaard's musical idiom is easily understood, so don't let a fear of "modern music" deter you from a thrilling experience.

MOZART: La Clemenza di Tito
Soloists: Mark Padmore, Alexandrina Pendachanska, Sunghae Im, Marie-claude Chappuis, Bernarda Fink, Sergio Foresti. René Jacobs, Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra.
Harmonia Mundi HMC 801923.24 (2 SACDs)

Following his wonderful recording of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, René Jacobs offers us another thoroughly rethought Mozart opera. I haven't always enjoyed La Clemenza di Tito in the opera house, due to a basic lack of interest in the plot and static staging. But listening at home to this performance—glorious music, dramatically styled and presented in sound that's beautifully balanced and with a lively ambience—put me into a rapture. If you liked Jacobs' Figaro, get this.

PUCCINI: La Bohème
Soloists: Anna Moffo, Mary Costa, Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill, Philip Maero, Giorgio Tozzi. Erich Leinsdorf, Rome Opera Orchestra & Chorus.
RCA Living Stereo 82621-2 (2 SACD/CDs)
PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly
Soloists: Leontyne Price, Rosalind Elias, Richard Tucker, Philip Maero. Erich Leinsdorf, RCA Italiano Opera Orchestra & Chorus.
RCA Living Stereo 82622-2 (2 SACD/CDs)
PUCCINI: Turandot
Soloists: Birgit Nilsson, Renata Tebaldi, Jussi Bjoerling, Giorgio Tozzi. Erich Leinsdorf, Rome Opera Orchestra & Chorus.
RCA Living Stereo 82624-2 (2 SACD/CDs)
VERDI: La Traviata
Soloists: Anna Moffo, Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill. Fernando Previtali, Rome Opera Orchestra & Chorus.
RCA Living Stereo 82623-2 (2 SACD/CDs)

Whew! On these wonderful recordings from the Golden Age of the LP the singing is stylish across the board, and RCA's release of the original three-channel master tapes lets us thrill to it all over again. Of the many competitive performances of these operas (Mehta's Turandot and Karajan's Bohème, both on Decca; etc.), none completely surpassed these classic RCAs.

STRAVINSKY: Les Noces, Mass, Cantata
Soloists: Carolyn Sampson, Susan Parry, Vsevolod Grivnov, Jan Kobow, Maxim Mikhailov. Daniel Reuss, RIAS Kammerchor, MusikFabrik NRW.
Harmonia Mundi HMC 801913 (SACD/CD)

Les Noces isn't really an opera, and the Mass and Cantata are certainly not—but the former is a milestone of a stage work, much as the composer's Rite of Spring was for the concert hall. Equally imbued with complex polymeters, Les Noces is also flavored with a wider variety of percussion. These works are among Stravinsky's greatest, the performances are dynamic and faithful, and Harmonia Mundi's surgically precise sound is entirely complementary to all three.

Das Rheingold

Melba MR 301089-90 (2 SACD/CDs)
Die Walküre
Melba MR 301091-94 (4 SACD/CDs)
Melba MR 301095-98 (4 SACD/CDs)
All three: Soloists; Asher Fisch, State Opera of South Australia

Three-quarters of the way through a complete multichannel (5.0) recording of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, Asher Fisch's cycle has grown on me. I was less than swept away by the initial release, Die Walküre, where I found the tempos somewhat too deliberate and the sound a bit muted. However, with Das Rheingold and, now, Siegfried, Fisch's control seems less constrained, and there's greater dramatic power. The sound, too, has improved, and Siegfried is the best yet: more open, more flinty, but still retaining excellent voice balance and firm bass. These may not be the greatest performances of these operas, but they're quite good—and this is the best-sounding Ring cycle yet.—Kalman Rubinson