the opera....


My Top 10 operas/operettas/vocal performances

Oh boy, this is a tough one. I focus mainly in the late romantic period, with some classical period influence. These are not in any particular order.

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, by Graham Todd. This was my Dad's last piece of work, and truely his most beautiful. I consider it a wonderful epitaph to a great man whose influence is with me to this day. Dad used a poem by Walt Whitman as inspiration&emdash;both Whitman and my father were very spiritual people, and the resultant work is a very ethereal, powerful work, that crosses the styles of Mahler, Copland, Gershwin, Prokofiev, and, well, Graham Todd. Sorry, not available on cd (yet!)

Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs. Strauss wrote these pieces reportedly in the knowledge that he was dying. Listening to this work, you realize that the man was completely at peace with himself. There is incredible beauty in this work, although you have to get past the angularity common to the time.

Mahler's 2nd Symphony. I'm sort of cheating with this one, but it features a substantial choral component. This symphony was written as a bridge between Mahler's classical #1, and his more through- form works that followed. And though many may disagree with me, no-one conducts Mahler better than Bernstein (actually, thiss was the work that got me interested in the conductor). Find a free 2 hours in your life, darken the room, turn up the stereo, and lose yourself in this work about the triumph of death.

Mephistopheles, by Boito. I am trying really, really hard to understand Wagner. Its very hard work. In the meantime, I would suggest a piece by one of Wagner's orchestrators, Boito. Listen to the first 10 minutes (a prolog set in Heaven). It'll knock your socks off. And make sure the version you pick has Sam Ramey as the devil - its his signature piece

West Side Story, by Bernstein. I know, I know, not really a classical piece, but if you get into the orchestration and composition of the work, you'll soon learn about its complexity. Bernstein did a comeback version with opera stars Te Kanawa and Carreras, but you know, it takes a lot to beat the recording of the original film soundtrack, which includes abridging dialogue from the film, and some great incidental pieces also penned by Bernstein. Runner's up in this category include the other Bernstein musicals, such as On the Town, Wonderful Town, and A Whitehouse Cantata. Oh, and Candide.

La Boheme, by Puccini. When this one is done right, there's not a dry eye in the house. Starts off as a complete whirlwind and transcends to a powerful story of tragic love. Try the Bernstein version.

La Traviata, by Verdi. The waltz-like themes in this piece are irrestible, and never done better than by Levine with Pavarotti. This was one of the first pieces that my daughter, at age 7 months, tried to conduct one night at home. She'll never live that one down.

Belshazzar's Feast, by Walton. Listen to the Bryn Terfel version with the Bournemouth Symphony, Who'd have thought that such a provincial town would produce such an excellent ensemble. For an essay that I wrote on this piece, go here.

Turandot by Puccini. My favorite version is with Zubin Mehta and Pavarotti (at the peak of his golden years). What I love about this opera is the way that such raw chaos and enrgy are focused into a powerful delivery. Sure, it has Nessun Dorma, but there are so many other magical moments. The first act alone is fantastic

Tosca by Puccini, just for shear power and drama, and the beautiful melodies. The 1953 Callas/de Sabbata version remains the classic, but check out the Karajan version. I can't physically single out any one particular great moment, because in my mind, its all great. What opera is all about.

 

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Links...


places to learn more about Opera

Here are some great links that I have found to learn more about the opera and classical music in general

Companies

The Boston Lyric Opera. One of several companies relatively close to Maine. Schedule, tickets, prices.

The Metropolitan Opera. Probably one of the greatest companies worldwide

The New York City Opera. The other New York Opera company, often unfairly overshadowed

Opera de Montreal. A closeby company in dear old Canada

Listening Opportunities

Operadio. The biggest disadvantage to this site is that they're not wired for Macintosh. other than that, this is a great site

CBC. Canada's number one classical radio station - includes Real Audio linkup

NPR. Public broadcasting in the States. Hosts Staurday afternoon at the opera, which includes boradcasts from the Met, and from the Chicago Lyric

BBC Radio 3. Call me pompous, but nothing beats the BBC for quality! Great Real Audio link, always something interesting on...

BBC Radio 4. More into Drama, spoken word and documentary, but also a great channel to listen to

Resources

Operabase. An amazing wealth of information about opera. Includes a great set of links to various resources.

Gilbert and Sullivan Archive. Plots, lyrics, trivia: all you would ever want to know about this infamous pair, kings of the operetta

Deutsche Grammophon. One of the best classical record labels around. Use the search engine to look up obscure, hard to find recordings in their catalogs

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