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 Favourites, Gifts for... Opera Lovers

Are you looking for the perfect present for your opera-loving family and friends? We've picked out some of our favourite treats for opera enthusiasts: with highlights from the latest releases, books about the history of opera, biographies of opera's star singers and some great box sets, we hope you'll find something to suit every opera fan. (You can find our other themed gift guides here.)

New and Award-winning Opera Recordings

Michael Spyres (Faust), Joyce DiDonato (Marguerite), Coro Gulbenkian, Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra, John Nelson

Two years on from their multi-award-winning account of Les Troyens, DiDonato, Spyres, Nelson and the Strasbourg Philharmonic join forces once again to mark the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death; reviewing the live performance in Strasbourg in April, The Times praised the orchestra’s combination of ‘Gallic colours and Germanic discipline’ and Spyres’s ‘ardent, doomed and near unsurpassable Faust’.

Available Formats: 2 CDs + DVD Video, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Joyce El-Khoury (Countess Sylvia de Linarès), David Junghoon Kim (Leone de Casaldi), Royal Opera Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Sir Mark Elder

Though some of its music was incorporated into La Favorite, Donizetti’s 1839 opera didn’t see the light of day in its own right until last year, when two concert-performances (from which this live recording is taken) were mounted at Covent Garden. Our Recording of the Week when it was released back in March, Katherine described this thoroughly committed performance as ‘a wonderful opportunity to hear some familiar material in its original context and to discover some astonishingly innovative music which has never before seen the light of day.’

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Joyce El-Khoury (Mirra), Weimar Staatskapelle, Kirill Karabits

Edited and orchestrated by David Trippett in 2017 and premiered in concert last year, the sketches for Liszt’s incomplete Byron-inspired opera lay virtually untouched in the Goethe and Schiller archive in Weimar for 170 years; its single act is paired here with the contemporaneous symphonic Mazeppa, also partly based on Byron.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Aude Extrémo (La Périchole), Stanislas de Barbeyrac (Piquillo), Alexandre Duhamel (Don Andrès de Ribeira), Les Musiciens du Louvre, Chœur de l'Opéra National de Bordeaux, Marc Minkowski

One of Offenbach’s greatest champions, conductor Marc Minkowski, celebrates the composer’s bicentenary in style with the first period instrument recording of this 1868 opéra bouffe about a couple of down-at-heel street-performers who are coerced into a drunken sham marriage. ‘Winning melodies, lively Spanish colouring, grace and wit even when characters turn boorish — really, what’s not to love?’ (The Times).

Available Formats: 2 CDs + Book, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Gabrieli Players, Paul McCreesh

Purcell’s patriotic semi-opera on a libretto by John Dryden has been part of Gabrieli’s repertoire for two decades, and this recording uses a new performing edition by cellist and musicologist Christopher Suckling and Paul McCreesh; the cast includes Roderick Williams, Carolyn Sampson, Anna Dennis and Mhairi Lawson.

Available Format: 2 CDs

Cyrille Dubois (Tarare), Jean-Sebastian Bou (Sultan Altar), Karine Deshayes (Astasie), Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset

Following acclaimed recordings of Salieri’s Les Danaïdes and Les Horaces, Les Talens Lyriques turn to the tragédie lyrique Tarare, which premiered in the same year as Mozart’s Don Giovanni and sets the only operatic libretto ever penned by Beaumarchais. The Sunday Times praised ‘A score of beguiling instrumental variety and dramatic momentum...brilliantly brought to life by Rousset and his cast.’

Available Formats: 3 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Simon O’Neill (Siegfried), Hallé, Sir Mark Elder

Recorded over two concert-performances in Manchester last summer, the final instalment in this award-winning Ring Cycle prompted The Guardian to describe Elder as ‘a superb Wagnerian, acutely conscious of the complex relationship between tempo and pace’ and to praise The Hallé’s ‘deep fervour and burnished warmth of sound’.

Available Formats: 4 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano), Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini

Ten years on from Sacrificium, Bartoli focuses on the most celebrated castrato of them all, Carlo Maria Broschi, with a collection of arias from his brother Riccardo’s La Merope (one of which is a world premiere), Porpora’s Polifemo, Semiramide and La festa d’imeneo, Hasse’s Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra, Caldara’s La morte d’Abel, and Giacomelli’s Adriano in Siria.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Lise Davidsen (soprano), Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen

The magnificent Norwegian soprano’s debut recording of Strauss orchestral Lieder and scenes from Tannhäuser and Ariadne auf Naxos confirms her as one of the most thrilling young dramatic voices around, capable of exquisitely introverted pianissimo singing as well as riding the heftiest orchestral climaxes with unforced amplitude. She’s also an unpretentious, almost self-effacing communicator, delivering a Four Last Songs of open-hearted sincerity and infusing Wagner’s Elisabeth and Strauss’s Ariadne with youthful vulnerability.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor), Artaserse

The French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky leads period instrument ensemble Artaserse in a kaleidoscopic survey of the many and varied operas by the seventeenth-century Italian composer Cavalli. Winner in the Recital category at this year’s Gramophone Awards, the whole album is shot through with the spirit of Venetian carnival.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), Rachel Willis-Sørensen (soprano), Wiener Philharmoniker, Ádám Fischer

The German tenor is on ardent, full-throated form in arias from operettas by Johann Strauss II and Kálmán, and displays understated dry wit in songs by Hans May, Peter Kreuder, Georg Kreisler and others; American soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen makes an ideal sparring-partner in duets from Die Fledermaus, Wiener Blut and Die lustige Witwe, whilst the Wiener Philharmoniker under Ádám Fischer bring gloss and glamour to the table as well as an unexpected homespun charm in the folksier numbers.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

New Releases on DVD and Blu-ray

Metropolitan Opera, Thomas Adès, Gary Halvorson

Based on Luis Buñuel’s 1962 film El ángel exterminador, Adès’s third opera (about a high-society dinner-party which spirals into a nightmare when none of the guests are able to leave) was premiered in Salzburg in 2016, and was described as ‘macabre and fabulously inventive’ (The Guardian, reviewing its Covent Garden run the following year) and a work of ‘urgent, apocalyptic intensity (The Telegraph, on the premiere). This Metropolitan Opera revival from late 2017 features many of the original singers, and prompted The New York Times to advise: ‘If you see only one opera this year, make it this one’.

Also available on DVD

Available Format: Blu-ray

Emma Bell (Vanessa), Virginie Verrez (Erika), The Glyndebourne Chorus & London Philharmonic Orchestra, Jakub Hrůša

Teeming with allusions to film noir and American Gothic, Keith Warner’s recent Glyndebourne staging brings Barber’s 1958 opera Vanessa vividly to life in its first outing on DVD and Blu-ray; Emma Bell, Virginie Verrez and Rosalind Plowright all give brilliantly cinematic performances as three generations of women whose lives are thrown into turmoil by the arrival of an enigmatic stranger claiming to be the son of Vanessa’s long-lamented former lover Anatol, played with shifty charisma by Lithuanian tenor Edgaras Montvidas.

Also available on DVD

Available Format: Blu-ray

Stéphane Degout (King), Barbara Hannigan (Isabel), Orchestra of The Royal Opera House, George Benjamin

Premiered at Covent Garden in 2018, Sir George Benjamin’s third opera shares the compelling, claustrophobic and almost queasily erotic atmosphere of its predecessor, Written On Skin, bringing sadism and sensuality into chilling proximity. Stéphane Degout manages to be both repellent and sympathetic as a modern incarnation of Edward II, whilst Barbara Hannigan is as mesmerising as ever as his humiliated yet imperious queen; Katie Mitchell’s production is as colourful and compact as the score itself.

Also available on DVD

Available Format: Blu-ray

María José Siri (Butterfly), Bryan Hymel (Pinkerton), Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Riccardo Chailly

Filmed at La Scala in December 2016, this is the first video release of the original two-act version of the opera which was premiered at the theatre in 1904, which is Chailly’s preferred edition of the score and features Pinkerton’s American wife Kate more prominently. Alvis Hermanis’s production draws heavily on kabuki theatre, and was described in Opera News as ‘true to the spirit of Puccini’s music and awake to the specific characteristics of Illica and Giacosa’s original libretto’.

Also available on DVD

Available Format: Blu-ray

Cecilia Bartoli (Isabella), Edgardo Rocha (Lindoro), Ildar Abdrazakov (Mustafà), Ensemble Matheus, Jean-Christophe Spinosi

Thirty years on from her glorious recordings of Rossini’s other two great comic heroines, Cecilia Bartoli is La dolce vita incarnate as Italian girl abroad Isabella, in a witty, good-natured contemporary staging by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier from last year’s Salzburg Festival; imposing Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov reveals an unexpected gift for comedy as her antagonist Mustafà, whilst Alessandro Corbelli almost steals the show as Isabella’s tragi-comic elderly admirer Taddeo and Uruguayan tenor Edgardo Rocha brings hapless charm and crystal-clear top notes to the high-wire role of her lover Lindoro.

Also available on DVD

Available Format: Blu-ray

Piotr Beczała (Lohengrin), Anja Harteros (Elsa), Waltraud Meier (Ortrud), Bayreuther Festspiele, Christian Thielemann

Featuring one of the finest casts possible to assemble for this opera today, this Lohengrin was filmed at last year’s Bayreuth Festival; The New York Times described Yuval Sharon’s contemporary production as having ‘something for everyone’ and boasting ‘breathtaking visuals and enthralling musicality’, whilst the Financial Times praised Harteros’s ‘glowing, full-throated, well-judged Elsa’, Beczała’s ‘refined, elegant, and beautiful’ Swan-Knight, and the ‘exceptional delicacy and considerable weight’ which Thielemann conjures from the orchestra.

Also available on DVD

Available Format: Blu-ray

Collections and Box Sets

Brigitte Fassbaender (mezzo-soprano)

Released in celebration of the great German mezzo’s eightieth birthday in July this year, this 11-CD set includes complete recordings of song-cycles by Mahler, Schumann, Schubert and Mussorgsky, recitals of Liszt, Wolf, Brahms and Loewe, and substantial excerpts from Il trovatore, Così fan tutte, Hänsel und Gretel, and Das Lied von der Erde.

Available Formats: 11 CDs, MP3, FLAC

London Philharmonic Orchestra, John Pritchard, Bernard Haitink

11 complete operas filmed at the Sussex Festival between 1972 and 1980, including David Hockney’s staging of The Rake’s Progress with Felicity Lott and Samuel Ramey, and Peter Hall’s productions of Fidelio (with Elisabeth Söderström in the title-role), Le nozze di Figaro (starring Kiri Te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade and Ileana Cotrubas) and Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, with Janet Baker as Penelope.

Available Format: 11 DVD Videos

Released to mark the composer’s bicentenary in June, this 30-CD box includes complete performances of Orphée aux Enfers, Les contes d’Hoffmann, La Vie Parisienne and La belle Hélène in both French and German, plus highlights from rarities such as Les Brigands, Pomme d’Api, Monsieur Choufleur and Mesdames de la Halle, and Six Fables de La Fontaine.

Available Format: 30 CDs

New Books about Opera and Opera Singers

The 30-Second... series takes a revolutionary approach to learning about subjects you feel you should really understand. Every idea, no matter how complex, is explained in 300 words, all digestible in just 30 seconds. 30-Second Opera raises the curtain so that anyone can enjoy opera. Compiled by opera buffs, it serves up all you need to enjoy the spectacle, the music, and above all the voices.

Available Format: Book

Christine Cerletti and Thomas Voigt

Jonas Kaufmann is widely regarded as the greatest tenor of today, and has captivated audiences in an astonishing variety of roles and works. In celebration of his 50th birthday, this newly published photo book documents highlights in the career of this exceptional singer in the form of a 'picture journey'. It includes photographs from his most famous roles, plus images from the early years of his career, never-before-seen photographs of his private life and behind-the-scenes footage.

Available Format: Book

Vivien Schweitzer offers a lively introduction to opera, spanning from Monteverdi's L'Orfeo in 1600, generally considered the first successful opera, to Dead Man Walking and Anna Nicole in recent decades. Along the way, she introduces readers to the genre's most important composers, performers, and conductors, and to its key terminology, from coloratura to recitative.

Available Format: Book

This book leads the singer through the process of bringing the libretto and score to life, introducing them to the tools needed to create an interior and physical life for their character. Covering operatic repertoire including Handel, Mozart, and Britten, it presents exercises to help singers develop their own dramatic toolbox, and features interviews with conductors, directors, singers and casting agents to offer invaluable insights into the professional operatic world.

Available Format: Book

John Deathridge (translator)

Wagner's epic cycle of four musical dramas about primal envy, cosmic conflict, spectacular self-sacrifice, redeeming human love and the downfall of gods revolutionised the nature of opera and conjured up an entire mythological world. John Deathridge's new facing-page translation of the libretto conveys the pungency and vitality of Wagner's words, reflecting the work's literary power while retaining its sense and dramatic energy.

Available Format: Book

Beautiful Sheet Music Editions

Thomas Adès's The Tempest, one of the most striking and successful operas of recent years, is available for the first time as a beautifully produced, limited-edition full score. Featuring the stunning image ‘Octopus’ by artist Claire Burbridge, this unique cased edition includes colour plates of exclusive images from Adès's original handwritten score and sketches.

Available Format: Sheet Music

Premiered in 2018, George Benjamin's ninety-minute opera Lessons in Love and Violence delves into the dark and turbulent events of King Edward II's life and death. Already available as a vocal score, Faber Music has now published the full orchestral score for this compelling drama.

Available Format: Sheet Music

7 volume study score edition

Bärenreiter's scholarly-critical editions of Mozart's best-known operas are presented here in a scaled-down study score format. Including the full musical text of the New Mozart Edition for Così fan tutte, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Die Zauberflöte, Don Giovanni, Idomeneo, La clemenza di Tito and Le nozze di Figaro, this boxed set offers the perfect opportunity to get to know every detail of Mozart's music.

Available Format: Sheet Music

Facsimile of the autograph score from the National Archive of the Richard-Wagner-Stiftung Bayreuth

Wagner constantly strove to produce manuscripts of a high calligraphic standard, and the manuscript for Tristan und Isolde is no exception. However, more so than in his other scores, traces of his working process are evident, and it is this aspect of the autograph score that makes it so fascinating. Bärenreiter's facsimile edition includes the complete autograph score of the opera, alongside three pages of sketches and a comprehensive commentary on the autograph and Wagner's musical language.

Available Format: Sheet Music

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