World of Opera
Ravel composed only two operas, and both are too short for a full evening's entertainment. Fortunately, they combine to make an outstanding operatic double-bill, as we hear in this production from Geneva, featuring the renowned Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, with conductor Charles Dutoit.
After his first few operas Verdi was marked as a composer with a political message, speaking out for Italian unity and freedom. When it came time for opera number five he tried something different, dipping into Romantic literature for Ernani, after a play by Victor Hugo. It touches on politics, but at its heart the story is pure passion, with a title character choosing love over life itself.
It's hard to think of a heroine with a fate more heartbreaking -- or more shocking -- than that of Donizetti's Lucia, whose famous mad scene is one of the greatest moments in any opera. This production from Barcelona features one of today's most acclaimed tenors, Juan Diego Flórez, with the brilliant Romanian soprano Elena Mosuc in the title role.
Berlioz had a lifelong enthusiasm for Virgil's Aeneid, and brought that passion to life in his most ambitious opera. It's presented here in a new production from Hamburg, marking conductor Kent Nagano's first production since becoming the Hamburg State Opera's new music director.
This one might be considered Massenet’s "other opera." His Manon is more famous, but Werther is beginning to get the wider attention it surely deserves. Based on a trendsetting novel by Goethe, the opera is the story of a man whose lost love leads him to the ultimate act of desperation.
Based on the fairytale favorite "Cinderella" La Cenerentola is one of Rossini's most delicate and delightful comedies. But in this version of the story, it's not magic slippers and fairy godmothers that carry the day, but rather the strength of love and the resiliency of the human spirit.
John Adams, Pulitzer Prize-winner and arguably America's best-known living composer, describes El Niño as, “my way of trying to understand what is meant by a miracle."This sweeping setting of the Christmas story is both freshly contemporary and filled with ancient traditions, including medieval carolers, Latin American poets, and an ethereal children's chorus. As the New York Times put it, "El Niño bears so many gifts that the senses stagger under the load."
Based on a Ukrainian story by Gogol, Rimsky's opera is one of the few that are specifically set at Christmas time. The same story was also set by Tchaikovsky in The Slippers, with Rimsky's version putting greater emphasis on the tale's more fantastic and mystical elements.
Donizetti had a well-known affinity for historical stories of the English monarchy. This time, he takes on a tale of intrigue and jealousy in the court of Queen Elisabeth I, including her supposed entanglement in a regal love triangle, involving Devereux, the Earl of Essex, and Sara, Duchess of Nottingham.
Arrigo Boito is best-known by far as one of Verdi's favorite librettists; he wrote the texts for both Otello and Falstaff. Yet, Boito was also an accomplished composer in his own right and Mefistofele, based on Goethe'sFaust, is far and away his most successful opera.
Verdi's final two operas, Otello and Falstaff, were both based on Shakespeare. Together, they may be the finest valedictory in the history of opera, and Falstaff may also be the most optimistic. This recent production comes to us from Milan's La Scala, where the opera was premiered in 1893.
Marschner's work seldom appears in today's theaters, despite playing an important historical role in operatic history. His operas fill the musical gap between the early, German Romantic operas of Weber, and the revolutionary music dramas of Wagner.
Hans Heiling tells a folk-based tale of a clash between two worlds, the mortal and the spiritual.
Not widely known today, Simon Mayr was among the most important opera composers of the early 19th-century, bringing German harmonic language and orchestral color to the world of Italian opera. His Medea tells the gripping mythological story of a woman so obsessed with revenge that she destroys her own children.
Few operas have stories as perfectly suited to a composer as this one. It's hard to imagine a more complex weave of antic comedy, shocking violence and emotional betrayals than librettist Lorenzo da Ponte's incisive adaptation of the Don Juan legend -- or a composer better equipped to handle it than Mozart.