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 Favourites, Gifts for... Opera Lovers

Opera Gift Guide 2020Are 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, and some recent deluxe sheet music publications, we hope you'll find something to suit every opera fan.

New Opera Recordings

Ermonela Jaho (soprano), Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Andrea Battistoni

For her debut solo album, the Albanian soprano explores music associated with Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), who created the title-roles of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Leoncavallo’s Zazà and Mascagni’s Lodoletta; the programme includes arias from these three operas and from La traviata, Manon, Sapho, Iris, L’amico Fritz, La Wally, Leoncavallo’s La bohème, and Giordano’s Siberia.

'The Jaho effect continues to thrill and startle to a singular degree' - The Times.

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

Piotr Beczala (tenor), Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Marco Boemi

Released in May, the Polish tenor’s programme of arias by Puccini, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Giordano and Cilea has been warmly received at Presto (it was one of our spring Recordings of the Week) and further afield, with Gramophone hailing it as ‘a simply wonderful disc’ and Opera Magazine observing that ‘there is no finer tenor operating in the spinto verismo category today’.

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

Diana Damrau (soprano), Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano

Damrau, who was due to perform the title-role of Maria Stuarda at the Metropolitan Opera this spring, sings the final scenes of that opera and of the other two works in Donizetti’s Tudor trilogy - Anna Bolena and Roberto Devereux. The album was Recording of the Month in the December issue of BBC Music Magazine, with Alexandra Wilson describing the German soprano as 'surely the perfect exponent of this repertoire'.

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

Michael Spyres (tenor), Lawrence Brownlee (tenor), I Virtuosi Italiani, Corrado Rovaris

Out next Friday, this scintillating all-Rossini programme sees two superb American tenors going head-to-head (and frequently trading volleys of top Cs!) as various friends and rivals in duets from Il barbiere di Siviglia, Ricciardo e Zoriade and Elisabetta regina d’Inghilterra and trios from Otello, La donna del lago, La Siège de Corinthe and Armida. (More from us on this one next week!)

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

Joyce DiDonato (Agrippina), Elsa Benoit (Poppea), Luca Pisaroni (Claudio), Franco Fagioli (Nerone), Jakub Józef Orliński (Ottone), Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Giunone); Il Pomo d'Oro, Maxim Emelyanychev

This starry studio recording of Handel’s Venetian opera about power and politics won the Opera Category at this year’s Gramophone Awards, and has received a slew of great reviews since its release at the beginning of the year: The Sunday Times described it as ‘an outstanding set with conducting that sizzles with theatricality’, whilst Opera Magazine declared that ‘DiDonato’s extraordinarily vivid portrayal alone ensures that this will be the Agrippina for many years to come’.

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

Jonas Kaufmann (Otello), Federica Lombardi (Desdemona), Carlos Álvarez (Iago), Orchestra e Coro dell'Academia Nationale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano

Since his debut as the ‘Lion of Venice’ at Covent Garden in 2017, Kaufmann has returned to the role several times in Germany, and joined forces with Pappano (who conducted those first London performances) and his Roman orchestra last year for his first studio recording of the opera; the cast includes the young Italian soprano Federica Lombardi as 'a Desdemona with a voice of astonishing purity and technical control' (BBC Music Magazine) and Carlos Àlvarez as 'an experienced Iago, a gnarled ensign whose twisted bitterness one can taste' (The Guardian).

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

Stuart Skelton (Grimes), Erin Wall (Ellen), Roderick Williams (Balstrode); Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Edward Gardner

With Australian tenor Skelton delivering a powerful and nuanced portrait of the tormented fisherman’s descent into madness and the late Erin Wall on luminous form as Ellen Orford, this is a marvellously atmospheric and beautifully engineered Grimes - as my colleague Katherine observed last month, ‘You can practically smell the sea air and the spit-and-sawdust fug of The Boar’. The Guardian, meanwhile, pronounced that ‘this insightful recording is up there with this opera’s finest’.

Available Formats: 2 SACDs, MP3, FLAC

Louise Alder (Semele), Hugo Hymas (Jupiter), Lucile Richardot (Juno/Ino), Carlo Vistoli (Athamas), Gianluca Buratto (Somnus/Cadmus); English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Recorded live in a semi-staged performance at Alexandra Palace last spring, this Semele was praised in The Guardian for Alder’s ‘glowing, unusually sympathetic heroine’ and Richardot’s ‘entertainingly snarling Juno’, whilst the Financial Times declared that ‘there was not a dull minute in this performance, with the English Baroque Soloists highlighting every detail’.

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

Hélène Guilmette, Artavazd Sargsyan, Chœur du Concert Spirituel, Cyrille Dubois (tenor), Anaïk Morel, Thomas Dolié, Ludivine Gombert; Munich Radio Orchestra, Hervé Niquet

Composed when Hahn was still in his teens, this ‘idylle polynésienne’ was premiered at the Opéra Comique, and prompted Massenet to tell the young man that ‘to have written that, you must be a poet’. Set in Tahiti, the opera prefigures elements of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in its depiction of a French naval officer who seduces and abandons a young Polynesian girl, whilst the score is shot through with the influences of Bizet and Massenet.

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

Lucy Crowe (Vixen), Gerald Finley (Forester), Sophia Burgos (Fox), Jan Martiník (Badger/Parson), Peter Hoare (Mosquito/Rooster/Schoolmaster), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Harašta); London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Sir Simon Rattle

Recorded live at the Barbican last June in a concert-staging by Peter Sellars, this Vixen was praised in The Guardian for Crowe’s ‘mischievous, charismatic, naive yet tender’ vulpine heroine, Finley’s ‘deeply moving’ Forester, and the ‘extremely fine’ choral singing, including superb contributions from the children of the LSO Discovery Voices.

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

Anna Patalong (Miss Julie), Benedict Nelson (Jean), Rosie Aldridge (Kristin), Samuel Sakker (Ulrik); BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo

If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten track, try this vividly sung and played account of Alwyn’s rarely-staged but instantly appealing 1977 opera on Strindberg’s play, with real-life husband-and-wife Patalong and Nelson bringing sizzling chemistry (and crystal-clear diction) to their roles as the lady-of-the-manor and the caddish valet who embark on a disastrous bout of Midsummer madness.

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

New Releases on DVD and Blu-ray

Danielle de Niese (Cendrillon), Kate Lindsey (Le Prince Charmant), Agnes Zwierko (Madame de la Haltière), Nina Minasyan (La Fée), Lionel Lhote (Pandolfe); London Philharmonic Orchestra, Glyndebourne Chorus, John Wilson

Fiona Shaw's Glyndebourne staging of Massenet’s take on the Cinderella story is both astute and sparkling, with John Wilson supplying fairy-dust aplenty from the pit. Danielle de Niese (an unusually glamorous Cinders!) and Kate Lindsey bring real psychological depth to the romance between the heroine and Prince Charming – who may not be all that ‘he’ seems in this production – and there’s a knock-out performance from Armenian soprano Nina Minasyan as a sassy Fairy Godmother who all but steals the show.

Available Format: DVD Video

Stéphane Degout (Il Conte), Eleonora Buratto (Contessa), Christiane Karg (Susanna), Alex Esposito (Figaro), Marianne Crebassa (Cherubino); Chorus of Dutch National Opera, Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Ivor Bolton

Filmed in Amsterdam in 2016, David Bösch's production boasts a stellar cast, and was described by BachTrack as ‘zippy, entertaining and look[ing] good enough to eat’, with reviewer Jenny Camilleri also praising Degout’s ‘consistently fantastic singing’ as Count Almaviva, Buratto’s ‘buttery soprano and aggrieved melancholy’ as his abused wife, and Karg’s ‘pragmatism and controlled sensuality’ as bride-to-be Susanna.

Available Format: DVD Video

Sally Matthews (Rusalka), Alexander Roslavets (Vodnik), Evan Leroy Johnson (Prince), Patricia Bardon (Ježibaba); London Philharmonic Orchestra, Robin Ticciati, Melly Still

Captured here in its third appearance at Glyndebourne, Melly Still’s production of Dvořák’s best-known opera was praised by BachTrack for its ‘complete mastery of theatrical effect’ and described by The Arts Desk as ‘devoid of the airy-fairy’, whilst the Financial Times declared that ‘the best thing about this show is the London Philharmonic Orchestra which, under Robin Ticciati, supplies all the magic’.

Available Format: DVD Video

David Portillo (Tamino), Sofia Fomina (Pamina), Björn Bürger (Papageno), Brindley Sherratt (Sarastro), Caroline Wettergreen (Queen of the Night); Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Glyndebourne Chorus, Ryan Wigglesworth

Filmed at Glyndebourne last summer, Barbe & Doucet’s thought-provoking new Flute sets the action in a Viennese hotel in the early twentieth century, with Sarastro as Head Chef and the Queen of the Night and her Ladies as a suffragettes. The production was deemed ‘a theatrical feast of eccentricity’ by The Guardian, whilst the Evening Standard praised Wigglesworth’s ‘stylish, irreproachable’ conducting and Bürger’s ‘lithe and engaging’ Papageno.

Available Format: 2 DVD Videos

Stephen Gould (Tannhäuser), Lise Davidsen (Elisabeth), Elena Zhidkova (Venus), Markus Eiche (Wolfram von Eschenbach), Stephen Milling (Hermann); Bayreuth Festival, Valéry Gergiev, Tobias Kratzer

Filmed at last year’s Festival, Tobias Kratzer’s controversial new production was described as ‘intelligent and surprisingly wrenching’ by The New York Times and praised by Limelight Magazine for its ‘inventive contemporary relevance’. It features the Bayreuth debut of Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, whose singing was hailed as ‘the kind of revelatory music-making that Bayreuth should be delivering all the time’ in the Financial Times.

Available Format: 2 DVD Videos

Luca Salsi (Count Di Luna), Anna Netrebko (Leonora), Yusif Eyvazov (Manrico), Dolora Zajick (Azucena); Arena di Verona, Pier Giorgio Morandi, Franco Zeffirelli

If your giftee is likely to prefer something a little more traditional than Kratzer’s outlandish Tannhäuser staging, look no further than this spectacular Franco Zeffirelli Trovatore, filmed at the vast open-air theatre of Verona last summer with husband-and-wife Netrebko and Eyvazov as the ill-fated lovers Leonora and Manrico – paying tribute to Zeffirelli (who died several months before the performances) Opernglas cited the staging as ‘perhaps his best arena production’.

Available Format: 2 DVD Videos

Collections and Box Sets

To mark the centenary of the American dramatic soprano’s birth this February, Columbia present a 16-CD box including a complete recording of Berg’s Wozzeck, songs by Debussy, Poulenc, Schubert, Schumann, Harold Arlen and Cole Porter, and excerpts from Fidelio, Götterdämmerung, Alceste, Turandot, Aida, and La forza del destino.

Available Format: 16 CDs

Artists include Cecilia Bartoli, Asmik Grigorian, Aleksandrs Antonenko, Christine Schäfer and Angela Denoke

Celebrate the festival's centenary with this collection of ten complete recent productions: Salome, The Makropulos Case, Der Rosenkavalier, Simon Boccanegra, Pique Dame, Fierrabras, Theodora, L’Italiana in Algeri, Die Zauberflöte, and Otello. Artists include Asmik Grigorian, Cecilia Bartoli, Angela Denoke, Matthias Goerne, Christine Schäfer, and Aleksandrs Antonenko.

Available Format: 17 DVD Videos

Recent Books about Opera

Alex Ross; Fourth Estate; Hardback

Alex Ross, author of The Rest Is Noise, reveals how Richard Wagner became the proving ground for modern art and politics. With a narrative ranging from architecture to the novels of Philip K. Dick, from the Zionist writings of Theodor Herzl to the civil-rights essays of W.E.B. Du Bois, and from O Pioneers! to Apocalypse Now, this book explores what it means to be a Wagnerian. Neither apologia nor condemnation, it is a work of intellectual passion, urging us towards a more honest idea of how art acts in the world.

Available Format: Book

Roger Scruton; Allen Lane; Hardback

More than any other of Wagner's works, Parsifal expresses a depth of feeling in music for which we do not have words. This short but penetrating book is an insightful and moving exploration of Wagner's last opera, which shows how Wagner achieved and executed his most profound work, explaining the story, its musical ideas, and their coming together into a sublime whole, giving us the musical equivalent of forgiveness and closure.

Available Format: Book

Mark Berry & Nicholas Vazsonyi (editors); Cambridge University Press; Paperback

This volume opens with a concise introduction to both the composer and the Ring. Subsequent chapters focus on musical topics such as Leitmotif and structure, and provide a comprehensive set of character portraits. Further chapters look to the mythological background of the work and the idea of the Bayreuth Festival, as well as critical reception of the Ring, its relationship to Nazism, and its impact on literature and popular culture.

Available Format: Book

John Deathridge (translator); Penguin Books

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

Roberta Montemorra Marvin (editor); Cambridge University Press; Paperback

Verdi's enduring presence on the opera stages of the world and as a subject for study by scholars in various disciplines has placed him as a central figure within modern culture. This book covers all aspects of his life, his music and his world, with appendices listing Verdi's known works, both published and unpublished, the characters in his operas and the singers who created them, as well as a chronology of his life.

Available Format: Book

Christina Guillaumier; Boydell & Brewer; Hardback

This book is the first in the English language to provide a contextual, critical and musico-analytical account of Prokofiev's entire operatic output, including those juvenile works that are unpublished as well as the incomplete works composed towards the end of his life. Drawing on a wealth of archival material and other sources, it provides the compelling untold story of Prokofiev the opera composer.

Available Format: Book

Gregory J. Decker & Matthew Shaftel (editors); Oxford University Press; Hardback

A bold assessment of the state of opera study as seen through the lens of semiotics, this collection combines traditional and emerging methodologies in order to engage with composer-constructed and work-specific music-semiotic systems, broader socio-cultural music codes, and narrative strategies, with implications for performance and staging practices today.

Available Format: Book

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

Deluxe Sheet Music Editions

Wagner wrote the autograph score of Parsifal almost entirely in violet ink, a colour he preferred to use in the final years of his life. As the printed score was not yet finished for the premiere on 26th July 1882, this carefully-written autograph lay on the conductor’s desk in its stead. Bärenreiter's sumptuous facsimile edition in high-quality four-colour printing reproduces the extensive score in its original size.

Available Format: Sheet Music

In 1845, Liszt embarked on a project to compose an Italian opera based on Byron’s tragedy, Sardanapalus. But he abandoned it halfway through, and the music he completed lay dormant for 170 years. The manuscript was previously thought to be fragmentary and partially illegible, but it was finally deciphered in March 2017, and was subsequently treated to a thrilling recording in 2019 conducted by Kirill Karabits. Editio Musica Budapest has now published the full orchestral score of the surviving music.

Available Format: Sheet Music

Seven Mozart operas are collected in this boxed set from Bärenreiter: Idomeneo, The Marriage of Figaro, and La clemenza di Tito appear for the first time in Bärenreiter study scores; while Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, and The Magic Flute round off the canon. Each volume contains a preface in German with information on the genesis, sources, and performance history of the opera concerned.

Available Format: Sheet Music

Thomas Adès's The Tempest, one of the most striking and successful operas of recent years, has been published by Faber Music as a beautifully-produced, limited-edition full score. Featuring the stunning image Octopus by artist Claire Burbridge, this cased edition includes colour plates of exclusive images from Ades's original handwritten score and sketches. Each copy is signed and numbered by the composer.

Available Format: Sheet Music

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