Which Operas Actually Need New Recordings?

Thursday, February 09, 2012 - 10:15 AM

Credit where it’s due: The last few years of Grammy-nominated opera recordings have been pretty diverse and erring on the side of newness, particularly world premiere recordings (how thrilling it was to see the first non-DVD recording of Saariaho’s L’amour de loin take home the trophy last year).

But this year, while boasting two first listens in Rautavaara’s Kaivos and Vivaldi’s Ercole sul Termodonte, seems to have dropped that thread oh-so-slightly. Both Adams’s Doctor Atomic and Verdi’s La Traviata have been recently recorded by their respective eponymous characters (though in the Met’s favor, their DVD is frankly essential). And if the Glyndebourne DVD of Billy Budd wins, it will be the second time in three years that the same opera takes home Grammy gold.

Which begs the age-old question: How many recordings of one opera do we need? There’s a certain brand of fan, immortalized in Terrence McNally’s The Lisbon Traviata, who can pore over each separate recording made by a Callas or a Pavarotti and compare the minutest details between, say, 1955 and 1958. But while such listeners build their collections up, adding one more “Addio del passato” to the stack, there are just as many listeners looking to build their collections out, eagerly awaiting the next rare Rossini release from Naxos or the latest Vivaldi recording from Naïve.

It’s a delicate balance and you really need both in the recording game to make a happy musical marriage. But just as casting your fantasy opera production is a popular dinner party game among operavores, so is wish-listing new opera recordings. The Met recently released from its archives a charming Mignon starring Risë Stevens, and in 2009 the same label (Sony Masterworks) reissued its own recording with Marilyn Horne—two formidable mezzos that no one would want to go up against in a sing-off.

But wouldn’t it be nice to have a new cast take on this exquisite French grand opera, which hasn’t been heard on the Met stage since 1949, in its completion? It provides popular arias for soprano, tenor and mezzo, and all have been recorded frequently in recent years by the likes of Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Magdalena Kozena, Natalie Dessay and Roberto Alagna (a tenor who has been devoting a significant amount of his recording studio time to rarities as of late, including Massenet’s Le jongleur de notre dame and Lalo’s Fiesque—would that those albums could cross the pond). Get three of those four singers in a recording studio, add in a Francophile conductor like Marc Minkowski, and have at it.

There is also the very valid argument that recording budgets should be focused on new works that are struggling to find wider audiences, which comes with its own wish list. I’ve already made explicit on this blog my yen to see Kevin Puts’s recent Silent Night immortalized on a commercial recording, but add to that catalogue a Ghosts of Versailles, Andriessen’s La Commedia, and a complete cycle of Stockhausen’s Licht.

And then some works sit in the middle. Czech composer and conductor Eduard Nápravník, who made a career for himself in St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater long before Gergiev was a twinkle in his father’s eye, wrote a thrilling adaptation of Pushkin’s short story Dubrovsky, about an Imperial Russian Robin Hood tempered with a juicy revenge plot and an even juicier daughter-of-the-enemy love story. The librettist was no less than Modest Tchaikovsky.

Dubrovsky was an instant hit when it opened in 1895 and became a repertoire staple in Russia and abroad, but quickly fell out of favor in the 20th Century. A 1955 recording exists and it has much to recommend it, but how fitting it would be to get a new one issued on the Mariinsky label, conducted by Gergiev and featuring a cast along the lines of René Pape, Piotr Beczala, Anna Netrebko and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Make it happen.

Which operas do you want to see receive new recordings? Leave your picks in the comments below.


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Comments [17]

Dean McMakin from Illinois

Servilia by Rimsky-Korsakov needs to be recorded. With the exception of some juvenilia, all of Rimsky-Korsakov's music has been recorded except for this one work. Really, the opera needs to be produced again, since it quickly disappeared from sight after its introduction.

Oct. 29 2016 05:23 PM
Richard Potter from USA

I'd like to see a rerelease of Penderecki's Die Teufel von Loudon on CD.

Jun. 10 2014 07:23 PM
Marty Lippman from Milford, CT

How about some of the 19th century French grand operas by Fromental Halévy. His most famous opera, "La Juive", has been recorded several times on LP, CD and recently on DVD. There are also private CD recordings of "Charles VI", "L'éclair" and "La Magicienne" (his last completed opera) and commercial ones of "Clari" with Cecelia Bartoli and Noé on DVD (completed by Bizet as "Le Deluge".) I have all of these recordings.

But how about "La Riene du Chypre", "Les Mousequetaires de la Reine", "Le Val d'Andorre" or "La Tempestà, which were very successful in the 19th century. The piano transcription by Richard Wagner of the overture to La Riene du Chypre performed by Cyprien Katsaris, recently issued on DVD, was very enjoyable and made me anxious to hear what the complete opera would sound like. If anybody knows if this opera (complete or abridged) was ever recorded privately or commercially, please post a comment on this site.

Mar. 13 2014 11:50 PM
Gayla McDowell

My want list -
1. Rimsky-Korsakov's Servilia - which is the only one of his that has never had a recording
2. Moniuszko's Hrabina. Based on the excerpts I have it is a very beautiful opera- possibly the composer's best
3. Herold's Le Pre aux Clercs, including the dialogue
4. Siegfried Wagner's Herzog Wildfang. I have a private recording of this and based on that I think it is this composer's best opera and is my favorite
5. Muzio Scevola, by Handel, Bononcini, & Amadei
6. Gounod's Cinq-Mars
7. Wolf-Ferrari's L'amore medico
8. Sarti's Fra i due litiganti (a melody from it is in Mozart's Don Giovanni)
7. Thomas' Raymond (but I guess I'll wait in vain for this one)
8. Dvorak's Alfred (the only one of his not recorded)
9. Cherubini's Les Abencerages (I have one but it is greatly cut)
10. Spontini's Fernand Cortez, in the original French
11. Johann Strauss' Waldmeister
12. Johann Strauss' Cagliostro in Wien

Aug. 15 2012 06:29 PM
John from Connecticut

Puccini's Turandot with the complete Alfano ending.

Mar. 19 2012 01:46 AM
Peter Feldman from New York City

The Maid of Orleans by Tchaikovsky deserves to be recorded and "performed" more often.

Mar. 01 2012 10:14 AM
raritan2002 from New Brunswick NJ

Rossini's Moïse et Pharaon. The recent performance by the Collegiate Chorale with Angela Meade and Marina Rebekah showed that, with the right singers, this work deserves attention.

Feb. 13 2012 11:38 PM

Getting into my own game to add to the pile a world premiere recording of Armen Tigranyan's 'Anoush' with the pitch-perfect casting of Isabel Bayrakdarian in the title role. (And Richard, I'm with you on Wuthering Heights.)

Feb. 12 2012 10:30 AM
Kurt Blaihut from Trail,B.C. Canada

I would really enjoy the release of Massenet's lovely SAPHO . It is whistful and enchanting .Its story is somewhat like that of La Traviata with an ending similar to that of La Rondine. A perfect cast would include Renee Fleming as Fanny La Grande(the courtesan heroine) and Jonas Kaufmann as her young,provincial lover. Ives Abel would conduct idiomatically.

Feb. 12 2012 12:35 AM
Richard from Brooklyn

While I'm all for the best singers/conductors of our time having a go at the old repertoire, I'm more interested in hearing the new, if for no other reason than to find out of these things are viable.

Goldenthal Grendel (finalist for the Pulitzer)
Wuthering Heights by Bernard Herrmann
The Fly by Howard Shore
Doctor Atomic as a CD recording
Any of the operas of Widor

Feb. 11 2012 05:42 PM
Bardboy from New york City

Zandonai's unjustly maligned and underrated Francsca da Rimini with perhaps Alagna and Radvanofsky would prove once and for all how beautiful and evocative this excerpt from Dante can be. Not a great opera, and yes there are some noisy parts, but it also abounds with passages of rapturous beauty. The moving third act and final duet makes it all worth it.

Feb. 11 2012 02:19 PM
Edward from New Jersey

I would like to see a new recording of leoncavallo's ZAZA with a powerhouse cast featuring Georgiu and Kaufmann

Feb. 10 2012 07:54 PM
Maury D'Annato from Manhattan

I'd sort of like a new Iris with Netrebko. I'm imagining her floating that first float-worthy note in "Ho fatto un triste sogno pauroso" and otherwise tearing it up. I don't rightly know who to cast in the other roles. There was a studio recording in the early 90s with one Ilona Tokody who I remember as quite good, but it seems like it's been out of print for a million years, and then of course a couple of pirates with Olivero, but (with the exception of the famous Adriana) Olivero tends to show up with colleagues not exactly on her level of distinction...

Feb. 10 2012 02:45 PM

New recordings for new operas....I'm all for that!

Feb. 10 2012 02:38 PM
Les Bernstein from Miami, Florida

"Thai"s" gets my vote. Since, alas, Dorothy Kirsten and Robert Merrill only recorded the final scene instead of the complete opera, I'd love to hear Renee' Fleming, Dimitri Hvorovstovsky and Joseph Calleja sing the principal parts, with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra conducted by Bertrand de Billy. The 2008 Metropolitan Opera's production was ruined for me because of some of the staging and costuming. If de Billy's not available, I'd like to hear Fabio Luisi or Marco Armiliato conduct it, but only if they love it enough. I'd also buy a recording of same with Natalie Dessay, Paul Szot and Roberto Alagna with the same orchestra and choice of conductors.

Feb. 10 2012 10:15 AM

The Rake's Progress

Feb. 10 2012 10:02 AM
Paul Pelkonen from Brooklyn, NY

Hmmm OK wish-list time:

I'd like to see a potent baritone (Alan Held, maybe) take on Jupiter in a studio recording of Strauss' 'Die Liebe der Danaë.' The problem is the soprano part is very tough. Also studio 'Ägyptische Helene' where the challenge is casting the tenor.

An uncut 'Rienzi.'

More Franz Schreker. Die Ferne Klang?

I think 'Der Kaiser von Atlantis' (Ullmann) needs another studio recording. It could be paired with 'The Broken Jug' by the same composer.

Jack Beeson's 'Lizzie Borden.'

I'd also put in for a major label reissue of the Verdi galley years (Decca are you listening) with everything before Rigoletto in one box set--and add the recording of 'Giovanna d'Arco' since EMI is merging with Universal....

Feb. 09 2012 06:43 PM

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