Are you making a list and checking it twice? If not, it’s time to get snapping. Operavore can help you choose holiday treats – recordings, books and DVD – that will tickle the fancy of even the most persnickety opera fans.
Go for Baroque
Make a splash with Opéra baroque (Harmonia Mundi), a sumptuous boxed set of 39 CDs and three DVDs encompassing 17 operas led by William Christie or René Jacobs. Star turns include Vivica Genaux as Handel’s Rinaldo, Simon Keenlyside as Monteverdi’s Orfeo, and Gerald Finley as Purcell’s Aeneas.
Another Baroque delight, Handel’s Orlando (ATMA), features two of today’s most bewitching and deeply musical singers, Karina Gauvin and Amanda Forsythe. Gauvin’s Prima Donna (ATMA), reviewed earlier this year, is 2013’s finest baroque vocal recital.
Celebrating their 40th anniversary, ever-excellent Boston Baroque essay a classical-era masterwork for audiophile label Linn Records: Haydn’s Missa in angustiis or Lord Nelson Mass. Soloists include the fervent mezzo Abigail Fischer.
Ring in the New
Gladden adventurous listeners (and deliver an agreeable jolt to any fuddy-duddies you may know) with acclaimed music written within living memory.
Two American operas that have won wide praise, David T. Little’s Soldier Songs (Innova) and Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick (Euroarts DVD), grapple with traumas existential and cosmic. George Benjamin’s Written on Skin (Nimbus), which has triumphed across Europe and at Tanglewood (listen to Q2 Music's webcast), pairs austerely gorgeous music with a tale of angels, manuscript illumination, adultery, murder and cannibalism (ah, opera!). Kaija Saariaho’s La Passion de Simone (Ondine) is based on the writings of Simone Weil, while Wolfgang Rihm’s Dionysos (Euroarts DVD) draws form Nietzsche’s Dionysian-Dithyrambs.
Operavores of a literary bent will also enjoy Salvatore Sciarrino’s Cantiere del poema (Stradivarius), including Petrarch settings, and Mohammed Fairouz’s Native Informant (Naxos). The compilation comprises Posh, a compact cycle based on Wayne Koestenbaum poems, and Tahwidah, a lullaby-cum-funeral-lament hauntingly performed by soprano Melissa Hughes and clarinetist David Krakauer.
2013 brought must-have reissues of 20th-century vocal and choral classics from Sony’s “Prophets of the New” series: Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, steeped in uncanny silence; the incomparable Jan DeGaetani in George Crumb’s Night of Four Moons; and Luciano Berio’s groovy, visionary Sinfonia, with nods to Mahler, Lévi-Strauss, and others.
Hit the Books
The Cambridge Verdi Encyclopedia (CUP) belongs in every Operavore’s library. With too many Verdi books based on blather and anecdotes and Julian Budden’s magnificent The Operas of Verdi (OUP) now decades out of date, this authoritative guide to the composer’s life, works, colleagues and world by today’s finest Verdi scholars fills an urgent need. The entries on individual works are exemplary: Emanuele Senici’s look at Falstaff, for example, is among the most illuminating introductions to be read about any opera.
The first complete English translation of an enormously influential book, Abramo Basevi’s The Operas of Giuseppe Verdi (UCP), offers keen analysis of Verdi’s operas (through Aroldo) by a contemporary of the composer.
Evan Baker’s lushly illustrated From the Score to the Stage: An Illustrated History of Continental Opera Production and Staging (UCP) is the rare coffee-table book that is also an informed consideration of its subject. (Those inclined to dismiss out of hand “Eurotrash” stagings stand to learn much from it.)
A cozy gift for Operavores: A tin of fine tea (try Le Palais des Thés) and a music-related title from New York Review of Books Classics. Jeremias Gotthelf’s chilling The Black Spider inspired Heinrich Sutermeister’s opera of the same name. In Nancy Mitford’s witty and stylish Voltaire in Love, the object of the philosophe’s affection is Émilie du Châtelet, the mathematician, physicist, and title character of Saariaho’s opera Émilie. Kingsley Amis’s The Alteration is a counterfactual romp in which Martin Luther became Pope and prepubescent chorister Hubert Anvil faces a surgical procedure that will preserve his ethereal tones.
For Auld Lang Syne
2013 marked the passing of Sir Colin Davis, perhaps the most inspired champion of Hector Berlioz’s music. Cherish his memory with LSO Live recordings of Les Troyens and Benvenuto Cellini or a boxed set of the master’s orchestral and sacred works (Decca), including rapturous accounts of L’Enfance du Christ, La Damnation de Faust and Les Nuits d’été.
Director Patrice Chéreau died in October. His watershed 1976 Bayreuth production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (DG) is by far the most lucid, humane, and riveting version of the tetralogy, and maybe of any opera, available for home viewing. Also noteworthy: Chéreau’s staging of Berg’s Wozzeck from Berlin (Euroarts) and his Aix-en-Provence productions of Mozart’s Così fan tutte (Erato) and Janáček’s From the House of the Dead (DG).
Remember Henri Dutilleux with Correspondances (DG), a ravishing program led by Esa-Pekka Salonen featuring soprano Barbara Hannigan in the title song cycle.
With its glittery cascades of notes and its lit-from-within leading lady, ReJoyce: The Best of Joyce DiDonato (Erato) has more sparkle than a Nebuchadnezzar of Veuve Clicquot. The compilation includes Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow,” which DiDonato dedicated at the Last Night of the Proms to “all of those brave, valorous gay and lesbian souls whose voices are currently being silenced—either by family, friends, or by their government.”
Here’s to countless voices singing out in freedom, dignity, and joy in 2014 and beyond. Happy holidays to all!