The best opera recordings released in 2020 so far

A list of the greatest opera albums released so far this year, as chosen by the BBC Music Magazine critics

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Gervais: Hypermnestre

Purcell Choir; Orfeo Orchestra et al
Glossa GCD 924007

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JB Lully: Isis

Aparté AP216
Les Talens Lyriques/Rousset

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Grétry: Raoul Barbe-Bleue

Various; Orkester Nord/Martin Wahlberg
Aparté AP214

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Charpentier: Orphée aux enfers

Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier et al
Alpha Classics ALPHA566

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Handel: Agrippina

Joyce DiDonato et al; Il Pomo d’Oro/Maxim Emelyanychev
Erato 9029533658

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Purcell: The Fairy Queen

Various; Gabrieli/Paul McCreesh
Signum Classics SIGCD615

The choir transforms on command from a lightly teasing ensemble to a thundering chorus; the impish boldness of the choral finale, heightened by tambourines, is the essence of Restoration zest. Singers’ additions, which stand out gloriously against a plucked-string-only accompaniment, cause amorous solos to ooze desire; Carolyn Sampson’s timbral purity and curvaceous diminutions are an especially heady mix. Comic numbers get full period license: the spluttering drunk poet is hilariously unmusical. At times soloists lard their solemn airs with a bit too much vibrato for my taste, but Purcell may have approved. Extremes, as McCreesh shows, belong to the fantastic worlds of The Fairy Queen.

Read the full review here.

6

Massenet: Thaïs

Erin Wall, Joshua Hopkins, Aaron Staples, Toronto/Andrew Davis
Chandos CHSA 5258

Like all previous recordings the Chandos set gives us the second (1898) version of the 1894 score while including just one of the seven ballet movements added to the revision of the second act; yet it surpasses many earlier efforts not only in terms of casting and conducting, but also in taking one of Massenet’s finest scores seriously.

Read the full review here.

7

Dallapiccola: Il Prigioniero

Various; Danish Nat’l Symphony et al/Gianandrea Noseda
Chandos CHSA 5276

Gianandrea Noseda and his Danish forces offer a thrilling account of Dallapiccola’s masterpiece, and Noseda’s attention to the all-important orchestral detail is meticulous. As the prisoner, Michael Nagy is alive to every nuance of the role. Stephan Rügamer’s caressing voice is ideal for the falsely sympathetic gaoler, too; and if Anna Maria Chiuri doesn’t quite have the warmth that Phyllis Bryn-Julson brought to the part on the fine Sony recording by Esa-Pekka Salonen, her dramatic intensity is admirable.

Read the full review here.

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Lemoyne: Phedre

Various; Purcell Choir; Orfeo Orchestra/Gyorgy Vashyegi
BruZane BZ1040

The central performances all stand up to scrutiny. Judith van Wanroij’s Phèdre hones in on the text, its meaning carefully embedded in the composer’s setting; exact and discriminating, she allows the drama to take her voice to extremes. With Melody Louledjian’s strong Oenone, Julien Behr’s firm tenor well cast as Hippolyte and Tassis Christoyannis’s Thésée ideally focused, she is fittingly supported.

Performances of character and sensitivity are provided by the Hungarian period-instrument orchestra and its attendant choir, while the conductor maintains musical and dramatic dynamism.

Read the full review here.

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Mascagni: Cavalliera Rusticana

Melody Moore et al; Leipzig Radio Choir; Dresden Phil/Marek Janowski
Pentatone PTC 5186 772

This new version of Mascagni’s one-act wonder is everything that verismo should be: intense, passionate and heart stopping as it reaches it’s grisly climax.

Marek Janowski, working with his own orchestra, the Dresden Philharmonic transforms what is often a lumbering warhorse into a Wagnerian thoroughbred. As he unfolds the opening prelude, scales the climax of the Easter Hymn or slips into the celebrated Intermezzo you wonder whether you’ve really heard this opera before. And his orchestra rewards him with some sumptuous playing – particularly the strings – and always a scrupulous attention to detail.

Read the full review here.

10

Lully: Armide (1778)

Various; Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
Alpha Classics ALPHA973

This project’s performers are, from first note to last, as outstanding as the score. Véronique Gens delivers a career-defining performance as Armide, a sorceress and seductress of volcanic power. She bewitches the hero Renaud, inducing him to quit Christian knighthood to be with her. Despite visions of her downfall, Armide does not slay Renaud as she had first planned but instead falls in love with him. Once Renaud’s compatriots turn up and restore his reason, he abandons her. Heart-broken, Armide destroys her realm and completely vanishes.

Read the full review here.

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DVDs

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin (DVD)

Bolshoi/Vedernikov
BelAir Classiques BAC246

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Wagner: Die Walküre (DVD)

Various; ROH/Antonio Pappano
Opus Arte OA1308D

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Adam: Le Postillon de Lonjumeau (DVD)

Various; Orchestre de l’opera Rouen de Normandie/Sebastien Rouland; dir. Michel Fau (Rouen, 2019)
Naxos 2.110662

Read the full review here.

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Dvořák: Rusalka (DVD)

Sally Matthews et al; Glyndebourne Chorus; LPO/Robin Ticciati; dir. Melly Still (Glyndebourne, 2019)
Opus Arte OA1302D & OABD7266D

Director Melly Still understands that fairy stories have many meanings and wisely resists the temptation to impose a single ‘reading’ on her Glyndebourne Rusalka, a deeply satisfying production of Dvořák’s late masterpiece. Spectacular to look at, too, with death-defying stage flying.

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Read the full review here.

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