I love holidays, especially when it comes to gift-giving. I love finding that perfect gift and, while the secret to really good gift-giving is not imposing your agenda on someone else's presents, it's also a fun time to turn their ears on to new sounds of the times. With that in mind, and piggybacking onto WQXR's Holiday Gift Guide, here's five acts worth of CDs and DVDs to make spirits bright, broken down by category.
The Splurge: Wagner: The Complete Operas
Just in time for the holidays, Daniel Barenboim’s complete Wagner compendium has been amassed by Teldec into one mega-box set of 34 discs, featuring his tantamount Tannhäuser with Jane Eaglen, Peter Seiffert and Thomas Hampson, a Der fliegende Holländer that features a small cameo by none other than Rolando Villazón and a complete Ring Cycle with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra. Barenboim’s sensitive and fiery conducting makes this a box set that will tide you over until the end of next year (or, in Götterdämmerung fashion and as a nod to the 2012 doomsday predictions, the end of the world—whichever comes first).
The Rimsky-Korsako-ffee Klatch: The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and Orchestral Suites
Naxos is on a Russian roll this month with a double-hitter from this member of The Five. Bass Mikhail Kazakov, who made an impressive star turn in Dallas earlier this year in the title role of Boris Godunov, headlines the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari’s The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, a dreamy work widely thought to be the Russian Parsifal. Also out this month on Naxos are orchestral suites from several of Rimsky-Korsakov’s other operas, including The Snow Maiden, Sadko and Le Coq d’or. Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony are in incredibly fine form with this repertoire, which you can also hear on recordings of Scheherazade and Capriccio espagnol, also released on Naxos this past May and September, respectively.
The Full (Diva) Package: Anna Bolena, Anna Nicole, The Callas Effect, Capriccio, Dame Joan Sutherland: Complete Decca Studio Recitals, Diva, Divo, Homage to Maria Callas
Pick one or a few from the list above for the diva worshipper or neophyte in your crowd. A great start-off point is EMI’s sleekly-packaged The Callas Effect, an exhaustive exploration of the late, great La Divina’s career with both hits and rarities, or spring for the newest collection from Decca of La Stupenda’s complete compendium for Decca. From there, follow up with the younger sets, like mezzo Joyce DiDonato’s Grammy-nominated cross-dressing studio album or Angela Gheorghiu’s own love letter to Callas (okay, and herself, but that’s why we love her). Polish off with a few DVDs, like Anna Netrebko’s successful turn as Anna Bolena from Vienna or Renée Fleming’s Straussian serenade in Capriccio at the Met. For another take on diva, look no further than Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole.
The Baroque’n Rollercoaster: Atys, Armide, Lamentazione, Duetti, Il Caro Sassone, Farnace, Ezio, Porpora Cantatas
Whether your loved ones marveled to BAM’s Atys and Iestyn Davies in the Met’s Rodelinda or whether they had to sit those (artfully choreographed) dances out, there’s a lot to choose from this year when it comes to the earlier side of the operatic spectrum. For starters, Christie’s Atys has been released on DVD, just a few months after Fra Musica released his Armide—the perfect one-two punch for a long winter’s night.
Tread into Virgin territory with the label’s recordings of Vivaldi’s Farnace or Gluck’s Ezio, or their Les Arts Florissants single discs. They include a duets disc from countertenors Max Emanuel Cencic and Philippe Jaroussky under Christie’s baton, and a collection of doleful tunes by Scarlatti, Caldara and more sung by Paul Agnew. Not enough? Relive Iestyn Davies’s debut with the Met on his Hyperion recording of Porpora Cantatas, or go back to Mostly Mozart’s sumptuous Vesperae Solennes featuring Lucy Crowe in her Harmonia Mundi Handel recital with Harry Bicket.
The Understatement: Berlioz: Les Nuits d’été-Harold en Italie
Sometimes, all it takes is one perfect disc. Anne Sofie von Otter and Antoine Tamestit recently teamed up with Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble for an all-Berlioz album that starts off with a lush Harold en Italie, followed by a sultry Les Nuits d’Été and, as the icing on the bûche de Noël, “Le roi de thulé” from La Damnation de Faust. It’s nothing short of ravishing, and bound to turn any Berlioz refusenik into a convert. Wrap it up in a bow and enjoy a very jolly holiday with your sweetheart. You’re welcome.