Mozart, The Best Versions of Some Major Opera’s

{Ed Note:  I asked DlphcOracl his opinion on the best releases of Mozart’s main opera’s. The below post is his informative response.}

Here are my favorites for a few of the major Mozart operas.   Many of my recommendations will be CD reissues from operas that were recorded on vinyl in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Say what???   Aren’t there better recordings that are more recent, recorded with modern sound technology??  Sadly, no.  Permit me to explain.

It is a misconception amongst 99% of the general public that newer is better.  Many of the vintage recordings on vinyl (LP) have gorgeous sound and are greatly preferred over their CD reissues by audiophiles with superb home stereo systems.  Very few CD reissues have been done carefully and CD inherently has an inferior sound to a well-recorded LP unless the CD has been transferred directly from the master tape of the original recording with great care and supervision in the transfer from LP to CD.  The CD industry was either unaware or unconcerned about this for the first few CD decades but in recent years they have become much better at making CD reissues of classic vintage recordings that preserve the quality of the original recording sound.

Most important, it is nearly impossible to assemble the quality of cast (vocal soloists) that were assembled for these opera recordings in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  First, there simply aren’t as many great opera singers nowadays.  Second, because of salary cost, schedules and commitments of the few great opera singers (they are often booked and committed  4-5 years ahead) it is near-impossible to assemble the quality of cast from top to bottom that they were able to many years ago.  So, do not despair if my recommendations sound at first blush as if they are dated.  They are not — these recommendations have the finest cast of singers and that is what opera is about.  Having said all that:

  • Cosi Fan Tutte:  This is a no-brainer.  Two outstanding choices here.  The legendary recording by Karl Bohm (conductor) , Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Christa Ludwig from 1962 is the only vintage recording to consider.  It has been reissued on ‘EMI Great Recordings of the Century’ and the performances and sound quality are superb.  Of the modern performances, the clear-cut choice is Georg Solti (conductor), London Philharmonic Orchestra (1981 or 82).
  • Le Nozze di Figaro: Two vintage recommendations:   Vittorio Gui (conductor), Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra and Chorus (1955), EMI or Classic For Pleasure CD label — not sure how it is currently available, or Erich Kleiber (conductor), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Vienna State Opera Chorus (1955), Decca Legends.  The sound is satisfactory, not great, but the performance is indispensible.
  • Die Zauberflote: Sadly, no clear-cut choice here because the best of the vintage recordings have been poorly transferred to CD or they have been carelessly produced with regard to libretto, notes, etc.  My pick would be Georg Solti (conductor), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Vienna State Opera Chorus, Decca label.

3 thoughts on “Mozart, The Best Versions of Some Major Opera’s

  1. Although the sound is somewhat problematic, the recording techniques of the day being not up to the range of the sopranos, my favorite recording of my favorite opera is still the 1936 Glyndebourne “Don Giovanni” conducted by Fritz Busch. There are fine singers associated with this work on other recordings–the legendary performances of the Don by Ezio Pinza, especially–but the singers here are nothing to sneeze at: the incomparable Leporello of Salvatore Baccaloni and John Brownlee’s superbly masculine Don Giovanni. Roy Henderson is my favorite Masetto by virtue of his fine tone and acting prowess. The sopranos are good to excellent though the recording capabilities don’t always let them shine. The only weak spot is the tenor, Kolomon von Pataky, who isn’t up to the challenges of Dalla su pace, let alone Il mio tesoro.

    But what makes this the best recording is the overwhelmingly dramatic quality of the whole production. You really feel you are witnessing a story with living, breathing characters, as excitingly presented as the best Tyrone Power or Errol Flynn swashbuckler, rather than a lot of a lot of vocal acrobats standing like sticks bellowing set pieces. I always recommend this recording to people who say they don’t like opera. Most of the credit for this is, I believe, due to the conductor.

    For similar reasons, I also recommend Beecham’s 1939 recording of “The Magic Flute” with the Berlin Philharmonic. Again, the totality is even grater than the sum of its very fine parts. My Japanese LP of this sounds pretty good, all things considered.

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