World of Opera
Gounod's popular Faust is far better-known than this, later opera. Still, of the hundreds of musical takes on the iconic Shakespeare tragedy, Gounod's version of Romeo and Juliet is one of a bare handful that still hold the stage today -- making it a remarkable opera in its own right.
Wagner’s early and rarely-heard comedy has so many "non-Wagnerian" elements that the composer himself, in his later years, looked back on it with a slightly bemused eye. Based on Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, it comes to as one of many commemorations of the playwright's anniversary year.
A stirring drama depicting adultery among the pious, this 1850 opera got off to a rough start -- in large part because 19th-century censors found the story intolerable. Still, there are many who feel that Stiffelio belongs in the same league as the three Verdi operas that followed it -- Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata.
A much-loved masterpiece, Puccini’s Butterfly combines an exotic setting with verismo intensity. It's both a passionate romance and a cautionary tale, warning that the meeting of divergent cultures can lead to both rich rewards, and tragic misunderstanding.
Based on an illustrated tale, published as a newspaper serial, Janácek's fanciful opera is one of his true masterworks. At once charming and frightening, this one-of-a-kind drama tells an enchanting story that's both tragic, and in the end, life-affirming.
Like The Queen of Spades, another popular psychodrama by Tchaikovsky, this brooding masterpiece is based on the writing of Alexander Pushkin. Its darkly dramatic story portrays a caddish aristocrat whose indifference towards others turns full circle, and comes back to destroy him. This production features the great baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, making a heroic and much-acclaimed appearance in the title role -- interrupting treatment for a recently-diagnosed brain tumor which had forced him to curtail his schedule.
Whether Verdi intended it or not, many of his early operas were seen by the public as inspirational appeals to Italian unity and patriotism. Giovanna d'Arco is one of them. Based on the life of Joan of Arc, it's also a story of people united against tyranny and oppression. This production comes to us from Italy's most famous opera house, with superstar soprano Anna Netrebko in the title role.
Idomeneo is a masterpiece that’s only beginning to gain its rightful place in Mozart’s canon. The opera may have an outlandish plot -- complete with conniving gods and a marauding sea monster -- but it’s also blessed with some of Mozart’s most beautiful music and a troupe of opera’s most touchingly human characters.
When the diva dies just as the final curtain falls, it may seem like an operatic cliché -- but not in the hands of Giuseppe Verdi. He made the final scene of La Traviata one of the most profound of them all. In this production, Maria GraziaSchiavo, famous for her interpretations of Baroque opera, brings a fresh and vivid approach to one of opera's greatest romantic characters.
If Gluck's Orphée changed operatic history, Monteverdi's version of the same story may have started it. It's hard to say who wrote the very first opera, but there's little debate about the first truly great one. It was Monteverdi's Orfeo, surely the first score to fully explore the unique world of artistic expression that belongs to opera alone.
Gluck's Orfeo, his original, Italian opera based on the Orpheus legend, was a landmark event in operatic history. He then followed it with this French version of the story, which may be even more striking, including a new, bravura tenor aria. That aria is performed here by tenor Juan Diego Flórez, in his first-ever appearance in the opera.
On its face, the story of L'elisir d'amore features little to be taken seriously. Yet Donizetti's music transports the opera beyond the world of farce to a place where simple confidence leads to life-changing revelations. This Paris production features renowned tenor Roberto Alagna as Nemorino, a role that including the widely-popular aria, "Una furtive lagrima."
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.