I thought it would be nice to compile a list of some recordings that I believe people who enjoy opera should hear. This list is mainly culled from my own listeneing experiences, but I have occasionally referenced some critical reviews to add to this list. I hope you enjoy these recordings when you can hear them as much as I have. Start checking for them at your local library and on YouTube for the live performances, and I wish you the best of luck in finding them!
Music For A While - Dawn Upshaw: I cannot explain the envy sopranos must have felt when they heard the clear diction of Ms. Upshaw's recordings and performances. Her voice has such clear timbre and tonal production. Her singing has such a silvery sound to it, one that is rarely found in opera singers, and I like it very much. Ms. Upshaw's voice is equally suited to choral music as you shall hear in the next six tracks from Chanticleer's album "Christmas With Chanticleer," upon which she was a collaborator. I think her voice sounds best when it is unaccompanied; it is able to express a full amount of emotion not usually attributed to opera singers. However, this peice, by Henry Purcell, who was a Baroque English composer, is an excellent display of her wonderful gifts.
Es ist ein Ros entsprungen - Chanticleer and Dawn Upshaw: This extended choral setting of this popular German Christmas carol is by Hugo Distler. The rythyms are often complex as are the chord structures, but it blends together so very nicely that I do not think anyone listening to it would really mind it. The choir or ensemble singing it would very probably find it somewhat challenging, and I am sure that it has been the bane of more than one conductor; nevertheless, one can just close their eyes and become enraptured and enveloped by this divine music. Dawn Upshaw does a tremendous job with Chanticleer on this piece. The rest of the album, which is entitled Christmas with Chanticleer, is a must for any library of music with a Christmas theme.
Vissi d'arte - Renee Fleming: This well known aria from Giacomo Pucinni's Tosca is perfectly sung by Fleming. The feeling her rendition evokes is enchanting. One at once feels every pain Tosca experiences, and this aria, all the way to its end, will leave you on the edge of your seat. This is taken from her 2007 release Homage: The Age of the Diva. That disc was nominated for two Grammy Awards, but unfortunately it did not receive them. Fleming has won the award twice and been nominated for it at least six times.
Abends will ich Schlaffen gehn - Renee Fleming and Susan Graham: I am almost certain that you shall not be able to listen to this without hitting the repeat button. This duet is from Engelbert Humperdinck's opera Hansel und Gretel; it is a prayer sung by the protagonists, Hansel and Gretel, while they are lost in the forest overnight. Renee included this on her Sacred Songs CD because it sounded so "angelic." As she put it, "Who could resist singing about fourteen angels?" Even though it did not exactly fit the criteria for that recording, she will be immediately forgiven for the choice once it is heard. As for Susan Graham, she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions the same year Fleming did, and they have collaborated on a number of recordings thereafter. She is one of the few mezzo-sopranos who are treated as stars in the world of opera.
O mio babbino caro - Renee Fleming: Before she became the Strauss soprano we know her to be today, Renee Fleming had to make her way into the world of opera with all of the standard repertoire. Three of her discs, The Beautiful Voice, Renee Fleming, and Signatures, were all devoted to this. This is taken from the Renee Fleming recording, an album which many who do not like Fleming say is an effort to show that she can sing higher and hold a note longer than other sopranos. While this was obviusly meant to be an insult to her degree of artistry, I thought that if it were indeed as they say, that this ought to be the reason that any purveyor of opera loved her. I believe this aria shows her ability to hold notes and sing well, and in my opinion some degrees better than the rest of her colleagues. To me it is a pity that she does not perform so much opera as she did when she was first starting. I would like to see her do more of it. Recitals are indeed wonderful, but an opera does allow for more of a performer's talents to be displayed. I am happy, though that she continues to sing at the Met and that she considers it her operatic home.
Ombra mai fu - Renee Fleming: This beautiful aria is from George Frederick Handel's opera Serse, or Xerxes as it better known in English, is traditionally sung by a mezzo-soprano or countertenor, but Renee Fleming does an exceptional job in this with her clear diction of the Italian lyrics, which, unlike the versions of many other singers, are easily heard. In other singers' performances or recordings, the sections in the upper registers of the aria do sound rather muddy and unitelligible; this is perhaps due to the fact that those singers who do not possess the higher register of their voices quite so extended as Fleming's have trouble making the high notes clear with the words understood. In any event, this is an almost perfect musical respite. It is taken from Fleming's 2004 disc entitled simply Handel.
Mesicku na nebi hlubokem (Song to the Moon) - Renee Fleming: Fleming is often kindly regarded as the definitive Rusalka of Dvorak's opera. Hers is the portrayal most sought and most lauded by critics around the world. It is easy to understand why this is so after hearing her perform this aria, which is taken from a live performance in response to her receiving the Swedish Polar Music Prize. She brings her poignant interpretation of Dvorak's heroine to the Met this season in late March.
The Holly and the Ivy - Renee Fleming: This traditional Christmas carol is sung beautifully by Fleming. This is on the Sacred Songs DVD. I watched it on PBS the year it premiered, and I could not believe the beauty of the repertoire she chose for the event. I am a little disappointed that it is not included on the CD of the same name, which I now own, but I suppose that that fact just provides me with an incentive to buy the DVD. It does not sound specifically like an opera singer is singing it since it only has a little vibrato in the phrasings, and the words are easily understood. This carol easily puts one in the mood for Christmas even in July.
Ah, Non Credea Mirarti... - Renee Fleming: This is from Fleming's Bel Canto CD, and when she wrote her autobiography in 2004, this was her favorite recording from all of her work. Many critics felt that her lyric soprano voice was not suited to this genre of opera, but I like this CD. It takes you in another direction from what you normally hear her sing, and I would have to agree with Renee that this is indeed one of her best recordings to date. This aria is from the Vincenzio Bellini's opera La Sonnambula, and while Fleming does an excellent job with this piece, Natalie Dessay does equally well. I do not really care for Anna Netrbko's version of it; in fact, I do not like Anna Netrebko very much at all outside of her vocal talents, for she uses deplorable language for a woman to utter, and she is a darling of the media outside of opera though her voice is not any better than Fleming's or Dessay's.
I Shall Be Satisfied - Jacqueline Horner: This song is a traditional hymn, but with Horner's voice singing it, it does not sound anything close to the music one usually associates with church music; rather, it sounds angelic. It makes it even more thrilling to listen to it knowing that this is a live performance and that Horner is Irish. Horner belongs to the female quartet Anonymous 4. Anonymous 4 is basically the equivalent of Chanticleer in the world of a cappela female singing. Their disc entitled American Angels, a collection of American folk hymns, is quite rewarding to hear. It does not sound like hymns at all; it sounds more like the Medieval repertoire they usually perform. If you ever get the chance to attend one of their recitals, DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!! I do not care if you have to travel across state lines; it is a performance you will be talking about for weeks after the event.
Dite oime - Cecilia Bartoli: Bartoli's mezzo-soprano voice has long been heralded as the best in the world of opera, and despite its being a rather small one, it sounds very pleasant and has the quality most opera companies desire, which is sounding Italian. This selection is from Antonio Vivaldi's opera La Fida Ninfa and is from Bartoli's recording called The Vivaldi Album. It is, to my belief, the best track on the album, and it is a calming piece. It is tenderly sung by Bartoli and exudes a warmth to all who hear it.
Sveturata navicella - Cecilia Bartoli: The tender ballad we just heard does not sound like it could possibly come from the same singer we are about to hear, but it does. That is one of the amazing aspects of Bartoli's voice: it can handle any type of music one wishes to hear. One moment she can sing something so lightly, and in the next minute she can deliver rapid Italian in a fiery torrent of excellent diction. Notice how the words are so easily formed in this aria. We do not hear any straining on Bartoli's part at all; she has no difficulty in maintaining her commitment to the music itself, either. This recording truly is a treasure for all of the devoted fans of Vivaldi's operas and Bartoli's artistry. I am proud to say that I own this recording.
For those of us who mark the annual ending of the Met radio broadcasts as the blackest day of the year, I desire to tell you that we can save these broadcasts for future listening with only an internet connection. You can record these treasures of broadcast media by recording them with a program you can download for free called Audacity. This application is veritably the greatest recording software available. Once you have downloaded it, visit the station finder section of the Met Broadcast site, and find a station that streams their program content. Got to the station's website, click on the streaming audio button, and start Audacity. In the Audacity program choose the correct source of your audio input from the drop-down menu, and press record. It records the broadcasts in real-time, and the best part about it is that, if there are any glitches in it, you can edit it in real-time after you have recorded it. If you want to free space on your hard disk, just transfer the file to CD-R and you can listen to it in your compact disc player. There is, as with all innovative ideas, only one problem: you cannot use your computer for anything else while the broadcast is being recorded lest Audacity record any sound another program emits on top of the opera. If this happens, one might be able to edit it out of the recording, but this calls for someone with some expertise. Should you worry about editing the glitches, you can do this with a minimum of knowledge about the program as you can zoom in on the recording area volume level and edit it out a section at a time and preview it until it sounds the way you wish it to sound.