Best of the Year
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Best of the Year

Our favorite CDs and DVDs of 2015.

EVERY WEEK, Opera News receives boxes and boxes of CDs and DVDs. We send (most of) these discs out to our critics, who every month report on them in our pages and on our website. Here’s the best of what they watched and listened to last year. 

 

10 BEST IN OPERA 


1. SIMON BOCCANEGRAVerdi 
(Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, Constantine Orbelian. Delos, CD)
“Orbelian leads a stellar cast of Verdian interpreters in a new recording … that captures the intimacy and grandeur of this difficult opera.”  —Judith Malafronte 

2. MEFISTOFELEBoito 
(San Francisco Opera and Chorus, Nicola Luisotti. Production: Robert Carsen. EuroArts, DVD/Blu-ray)
“Ildar Abdrazakov proves a worthy heir to a [classic Samuel] Ramey role…. The sound is, in general, much better on the new release [than on previous releases of the same production] … and the HD image is easily superior.”  —Patrick Dillon 

3. IOLANTATchaikovsky 
(Slovenian Chamber Choir and Philharmonic, Emmanuel Villaume. Deutsche Grammohpon, CD)
“Anna Netrebko has taken up the title role … and it suits her splendidly.” —David Shengold 

4. PIERROT LUNAIRE, Schoenberg 
(Ensemble, Tsung Yeh. Pro Organo, DVD/Blu-ray)
“The performance alone is of a very high caliber, but the entire package provides a roadmap to help lead us through one of modern music’s thorniest masterpieces.”  —Eric Myers 

5. AIDA, Verdi 
(Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano. Warner Classics, CD)
“Jonas Kaufmann [sings] Radamès with burnished tone not heard in the role since the days of Bergonzi…. Anja Harteros, as Aida, is keenly responsive.”  —William R. Braun 

6. DIALOGUES DES CARMÉLITES, Poulenc 
(Philharmonia Orchestra, Jérémie Rhorer. Production: Olivier Py. Erato, DVD/Blu-ray)
“A powerful, musically rewarding account of this extraordinary piece, impressively filmed at a single performance.”  —David Shengold 

7. TREEMONISHAScott Joplin 
(Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Gunther Schuller. Pentatone, CD)
“A sonic update [of the 1970s recording] reveals that Treemonisha is a noble, ravishing and shockingly timely work.” —Joshua Rosenblum 

8. THE LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER, Paul Hindemith 
(American Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein. Bridge, CD)
“The first English-language recording … a welcome release.” —Joshua Rosenblum 

9. THE GOLDEN APPLEJerome Moross 
(Lyric Stage Orchestra, Jay Dias. PS Classics, CD)
The first full recording of  “one of the great American musicals.… Excellent cast … rousingly conducted.” —Eric Myers 

10. EINE NACHT IN VENEDIG, J. Strauss 
(Seefestspiele Mörbisch, Rudolf Bibl. Videoland, DVD)
“This delightful production … with a company steeped in the Viennese operetta tradition is a winner.”  —Joanne Sydney Lessner 


DVD ALL-STARS 
Operetta MVP 
Videoland’s year of Seefestspiele Mörbisch’s productions of Viennese operetta classics on DVD was a huge treat for fans, given the spectacular waterfront stage and tight-knit resident casts.

 

 
DEBUT & REDUX 
First Looks & Second Listens 
The first video recording of Aribert Reimann’s Lear, released by Arthaus Musik, gave opera fans a chance to see this hyper-expressionistic work with a titanic performance by Bo Skovhus. And the first new recording in forty years of Virgil Thomson’s Mother of Us All, by the Manhattan School of Music, was a gift from Albany Records.
 
SHEER VOLUME 
Most Puccini CDs 

Jonas Kaufmann made a splash with his SONY Puccini disc, and Decca tried to ride the ripples by releasing a collection of arias previously recorded by Kaufmann, which it called The Age of Puccini, because only a few tracks were actually by Puccini. The tenor publicly denounced the copycat disc and urged fans not to buy it. 


HONORABLE MENTION 
Triomphe d’Arc 
Marion Cotillard may have very little singing to do as the title character in Honegger’s oratorio Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcherbut she carries Alpha’s DVD release almost entirely with her expressive face.

 

NOTABLE PERFORMANCES 


DIANA DAMRAU, LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR
(Müncher Orchester, Jesús López-Cobos. Erato, CD)
“Damrau [is] a formidable Lucia…. How many [sopranos] meet both the vocal and dramatic demands?”  —David J. Baker 

VESSELINA KASAROVA, CARMEN
(Chorus and Orchestra of Opernhaus Zürich, Franz Welser-Möst. Decca, DVD)
“This was a role debut for the mezzo, but there’s nothing tentative or half-formed about her Carmen, who’s funny and witty, sultry (but never vulgar) and always thinking…. This menthol-cool Carmen is smarter than everyone around her and knows it.”  —Patrick Dillon 

MICHAEL VOLLE, SIMPLICIUS
(Chorus and Orchestra of Opernhaus Zürich, Franz Welser-Möst. Arthaus Musik, DVD)
“He is the most rewarding component of this [Johann Strauss operetta]…. It’s a remarkable achievement, because his character appears only in the first and third acts.”  —William R. Braun 

PHILIPPE JAROUSSKY, NIOBE, REGINA DI TEBE
(Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs. Erato, CD)
“An out-and-out star performance.”  —William R. Braun 

EDITA GRUBEROVA, LA STRANIERA
(Orpheus Vokalensemble SWR, Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, Pietro Rizzo. Nightingale, CD)
“She remains a marvel of technical achievement, and she makes the most of any weaknesses.” —Judith Malafronte 

 
NEW WORKS 

CLAUDEThierry Escaich
(BelAir Classiques, DVD)
“A momentous new opera … an urgent, enveloping realization.” —Joshua Rosenblum 

THE DIFFICULTY OF CROSSING A FIELD, David Lang 
(Cantaloupe, CD)
“Lang, librettist Mac Wellman and the performers have elevated Ambrose Bierce’s brief, obscure source tale to the status of enduring, resonant, multilayered American myth.” —Joshua Rosenblum 

BABY KINTYREDean Burry 
(Centrediscs, CD)
“Burry knows how to tell a good story with music, and the idea is definitely a winner—an operatic mystery-thriller in suspenseful, bite-sized installments.” —Joshua Rosenblum 

AIRLINE ICARUSBrian Current 
(Naxos, CD)
“An edgy new chamber opera with a shape-shifting libretto by Anton Piatigorsky.” —Joshua Rosenblum 

BROKEBACK MOUNTAINCharles Wuorinen 
(BelAir Classiques, DVD)
“Wuorinen’s astringent musical approach communicates both the physical dangers of the mountain terrain and the doomed nature of the love between two men.” —Joshua Rosenblum 

 

10 BEST RECITALS 


1. JONAS KAUFMANN, Nessun Dorma: The Puccini Album 
(SONY Classical)
“The superstar tenor’s zillions of fans … will be ecstatic.” —Judith Malafronte 

2. MARCELO ÁLVAREZ, 20 Years on the Opera Stage 
(Delos)
“Álvarez sings beautifully, with pure tone, ravishing pianissimos and a romantic ardor that perfectly suits these [verismo] arias.” —Henson Keys 

3. JOYCE DIDONATO, Joyce and Tony,  Live at Wigmore Hall 
(Erato)
“The ebullient personalities, instinctive musicianship and rock-solid technique of mezzo Joyce DiDonato and pianist Antonio Pappano are amply displayed on this two-CD set.” —Henson Keys 

4. BRYAN HYMEL, Héroïque 
(Warner Classics)
“Hymel’s debut solo recording of French grand opera arias is a perfect match of artist and repertoire.”  —Judith Malafronte 

5. NATHALIE STUTZMANN, Heroes from the Shadows 
(Erato)
“Musically confident and imaginative…. Erato’s engineers have handsomely captured her very individual timbre.… [Her] musical intelligence permeates the disc.” —Judith Malafronte 

6. PHILIPPE JAROUSSKY, Green
(Erato)
“This delightful recital sheds light on familiar texts in a vast array of musical styles.” —Judith Malafronte 

7. PATRICIA PETIBON, La Belle Excentrique 
(Deutsche Grammophon)
“Petibon’s … program happens to contain nearly thirty tracks, but they all go together as a single performance, and they need to be heard in the order in which she presents them.” —William R. Braun 

8. DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY, Wait for Me 
(Delos)
“His excellent diction and natural phrasing make his popularity in this genre [Soviet-era popular song] understandable.” —David Shengold 

9. DIANA DAMRAU, Fiamma del Belcanto 
(Erato)
“The intelligent and musical soprano captivates listeners with endlessly imaginative vocal colorings and her handling of text with seemingly natural ease. Now, as her voice matures, there’s extra warmth, with soft-edged contours. The brilliant gleam is still available, but the soprano revels in gentler vocal textures and more voluptuous phrasing.”  —Judith Malafronte 

10. PLÁCIDO DOMINGO, Encanto del Mar
(SONY Classical)
“The legendary singer turns his distinctive timbre and captivating phrasing to music that evokes a smoky café in Izmir or Algiers.” —Judith Malafronte 



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