W.A. Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito
Drottningholm Theatre Orchestra and Chorus
Mark Tattlow, conductor
CAST: Richard Croft (Tito); Kirsten Blaise (Vitellia); Katija Dragojevic (Sesto); Luciana Mancini (Annio); Elena Galitskaya (Servilia); Markus Schwartz (Publio)
The characters in Mozart's final opera, discover that even when it seems that things could hardly go more horribly, disastrously wrong, everything can eventually turn out just fine -- thanks to this drama's generous, and almost surreally tolerant title character.
CHRISTOPH WILLIBALD GLUCK: Orfeo ed Euridice
Boston Baroque Orchestra and Chorus
Martin Pearlman, conductor
CAST: Owen Willets (Orfeo); Mary Wilson (Euridice); Courtney Huffman (Amor)
Of Gluck's two interpretations of the Orpheus story, Orphée, the French version, is probably the more striking -- with a famous, bravura aria and couple of well-know ballet numbers. But this Italian version was the original, and is widely regarded as Gluck's masterpiece. Its premiere, in 1762, was a landmark event in 18th-century musical theater.
JOSEPH HAYDN: La Vera Costanza
Haydn Festival, Bruhl
Andreas Spering, conductor
CAST: Raffaella Milanesi (Rosina); Krystian Adam (Count Errico); Ana Maria Labin (Irene); Colin Balzer (Marquis Ernesto); Johannes Weisser (Vilotto); Hanna Morrison (Lisetta); John Kobow (Masino)
Though known today mainly as an instrumental composer, Haydn wrote a surprising number of operas, including this accomplished drama -- the story of a determined young woman whose devotion to a secret marriage nearly leads to her tragic death.
BENJAMIN BRITTEN: Billy Budd
Göteborg Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Jan Latham-Koenig, conductor
CAST: Joa Helgesson (Billy Budd); Mathias Zachariassen (Captain Vere); Clive Bayley (John Claggart); Mats Persson (Mr. Redburn); Anders Lorentzson (Mr. Flint); Marco Stella (Ratcliffe); Sven Törnell (Dansker)
November marks the 100th anniversary of Britten's birth, and we'll celebrate with one of his most profound dramas. Based on a story by Herman Melville, Billy Budd tells a moving story of conflicting values, the thin line between good and evil, and the sacrifice of innocence.
GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL: Almira
Boston Early Music Festival
Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra
Robert Mealy, conductor Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs, music directors
CAST: Ulrike Hofbauer (Almira); Amanda Forsythe (Edilia); Colin Balzer (Fernando); Tyler Duncan (Raymondo)
With Almira, Handel's very first opera, he demonstrated that he had all the necessary tools to become one of history's great opera composers -- when he was just 19 years old! Premiered in Hamburg, in 1705, the score combines French, German and Italian operatic styles, with a result that's pure Handel.
GIACOMO PUCCINI: Le Villi (Charleston) and La Boheme (Turin)
Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston; Royal Theater, Turin
Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra; Maurizio Barbacini, conductor
Teatro Regio Orchestra and Chorus; Renato Palumbo, conductor
CAST (Le Villi): Jennifer Rowley (Anna); Dinyar Vania (Roberto); Levi Hernandez (Guglielmo)
CAST (La Boheme): Erika Grimaldi (Mimi); Giorgio Berrugi (Rodolfo); Simone Alberghini (Marcello); Ekaterina Bakanova (Musetta); Federico Longhi (Schaunard); Gabriele Sagona (Colline); Matteo Peirone (Benoit/Alcindoro)
This unusual double bill, with productions from both sides of the Atlantic, features the drama that put Puccini on the map, Le Villi, along with one of the many that have kept him there ever since -- La Boheme.
CHRISTOPH WILLIBALD GLUCK: Armide
Netherlands Opera, Amsterdam
Netherlands Opera Chamber Orchestra and Chorus
Ivor Bolton, conductor
CAST: Karina Gauvin (Armide); Frédéric Antoun (Renaud); Karin Strobos (Phénice); Ana Quintans (Sidonie); Andrew Foster-Williams (Hidraot); Diana Montague (Hate); Sébastien Droy (Danish Knight); Henk Neven (Ubalde)
Regarded as the most action-packed of Gluck's major operas, the drama also boasts a complex and fascinating title character and a uniquely flowing musical style. The composer considered it "perhaps the finest of all my works."
JULES MASSENET: Thérèse, La Navarraise
Wexford Festival (Ireland)
Wexford Opera Orchestra and Chorus
David Agler, conductor
CAST (Thérèse): Nora Sourouzian (Thérèse); Philippe Do (Armand de Clerval); Damian Pass (Morel); Brian Mulligan (André Thorel)
CAST: (La Navarraise): Nora Sourouzian (Anita); Philippe Do (Araquil); Brian Mulligan (Garrido); Damian Pass (Remigo)
Known primarily for a single, truly great opera -- Manon -- Massenet was in fact among the most versatile and prolific opera composers of his time. The two short dramas featured here are seldom heard today, but together they make a stunningly dramatic double bill.
GIOACHINO ROSSINI: The Barber of Seville
Royal Theater, Turin
Teatro Regio Orchestra and Chorus
Alessandro De Marchi, conductor
CAST: Laura Polverelli (Rosina); Antonino Siragusa (Count Almaviva); Vito Priante (Figaro); Paolo Bordogna (Dr. Bartolo); Nicola Ulivieri (Don Basilio); Ryan Milstead (Fiorello); Giovanna Donadini (Berta)
There may be no such thing as artistic perfection, but with The Barber of Seville Rossini surely came as close as anyone to creating a flawless operatic comedy.
W. A. MOZART: The Magic Flute
Drottningholm Court Theater, Stockholm
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Daniel Hardin, conductor
CAST: Christiana Karg (Pamina); Andrew Staples (Tamino); Albina Shagimuratova (Queen of the Night); Carl Ackerfeldt (Papageno); Mari Eriksmoen (Papagena); Peter Rose (Sarastro)
A quick look at the story of Mozart's Magic Flute might suggest that it's a great opera for the kids. And it is! But it's also a very adult look at the conflict between lightness and dark, and how difficult it often is to distinguish which is which.