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The best opera recordings released on CD and DVD in 2021 so far

A list of the greatest opera albums released so far in 2021, as chosen by the BBC Music Magazine critics

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Vivaldi: Argippo

Emőke Baráth, Marie Lys, Delphine Galou, Marianna Pizzolato, Luigi De Donato; Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi
Naïve OP 7079
112:10 mins (2 discs)

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‘The bass Luigi De Donato is a youthful Emperor and Emőke Baráth‘s Argippa sounds more satisfying as the plot curdles, with thrilling top notes, callisthenic coloratura and deep dives into the chest register. Of the women characters Delphine Galou’s Zanaida gets the pick of the arias in a recording that is bright and lets the singers lead, which is as it should be.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

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Willem Jeths: Ritratto

Verity Wingate, Martin Mkhize, Frederik Bergman, Paride Cataldo, Dominic Kraemer, Lucas van Lierop, Cameron Shahbazi; Dutch National Opera; Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Geoffrey Paterson
Challenge CC 72849   88:24 mins

‘Jeths’s story about the meaning and purpose of art is a powerful and accomplished piece of music theatre. His own post-modernist style helps, with fragments of Ravel’s La Valse, hints of Tristan and Salome, and even Tchaikovsky’s letter scene drifting through a comfortably tonal score. It’s invidious to single out individuals from the young cast, many of them members of the Dutch National Opera Studio, but Verity Wingate is compelling as Luisa, and Paride Cataldo’s posturing D’Annunzio all but steals the show. Laurels, too, for Geoffrey Patterson who conducts the Amsterdam Sinfonietta with complete conviction.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

ritratto

I Am Hera

Bellini: Arias from I Capuleti e i Montecchi; Gluck: Arias from Orfeo ed Euridice; Handel: Aria from Giulio Cesare; Mozart: Arias from Idomeneo, The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute; Puccini: Arias from La bohème and Gianni Schicchi; Rossini: Arias from The Barber of Seville and Il Turco in Italia; plus works by Joowon Kim, Pergolesi and Un-Yung La
Hera Hyesang Park (soprano), Johannes Maria Bogner (harpsichord); Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Bertrand de Billy
DG 483 9456   66:35 mins

‘Hera today, but hopefully not gone tomorrow. The young Korean soprano Hera Hyesang Park has recorded one of the most satisfying debuts for many a day.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Margaret Catchpole: Two Worlds Apart

Margaret Catchpole: Two Worlds Apart
Kate Howden, William Wallace, Nicholas Morris, Richard Edgar-Wilson; Perpetuo/Julian Perkins
Naxos 8.660459-61   165:36 mins (3 discs)

‘Stephen Dodgson (1924-2013) – a distant relative of Charles, aka Lewis Carroll – left a notable body of work that, under the auspices of The Stephen Dodgson Charitable Trust, is edging towards the recognition it deserves. Margaret Catchpole: Two Worlds Apart (1979) is one of Dodgson’s three operas – this is its first recording.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Eccles: Semele

Anna Dennis (soprano), Richard Burkhard (baritone), Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano), Héloïse Bernard (soprano), Graeme Broadbent (bass)  et al; Cambridge Early Opera; Academy of Ancient Music/Julian Perkins
AAM AAM012   121:27 mins

‘John Eccles’s sexy, sparkling opera bursts to life – finally! Shelved in 1706, Semele has never been professionally recorded, so this production was worth waiting for. Cast, band, director and sound are all top-notch, restoring Eccles’s score to its full glory.’

Read our full review of this recording here.

Royal Handel
Handel: Arias from Flavio, Re De’ Longobardi; Admeto, Re Di Tessaglia; Siroe, Re Di Persia, etc; plus works by Arisoti and Bononcini
Eva Zaïcik (mezzo-soprano); Le Consort
Alpha Classics ALPHA 662   64:59 mins

‘In 2017, Eva Zaïcik dazzled BBC Proms audiences in Monteverdi’s Vespers. This project shows why. From her gut-punch climactic notes to the buttery evenness of her register, Zaïcik’s command is exhilarating.’

Read our full review of this recording here

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Verdi
Baritone Arias from La traviata, Il Trovotore, Rigoletto, Otello, Nabucco, Ernani, etc
Ludovic Tézier (baritone); Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Frédéric Chaslin
Sony Classical 19439753632   79:50 mins

‘With his richly burnished voice, Tézier gives a compelling account of all these diverse characters but is at his best in the arias that call for psychological nuance and contrasts in vocal shading. Particular highlights include the disc’s curtain-raiser, an authoritative ‘Morir! Tremenda cosa!’ from La forza del destino, and the dying Rodrigue/Rodrigo’s bittersweet aria from Don Carlos/Carlo – presented here in both its French and Italian versions and sufficiently attractive to merit including twice.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Six of the best… baritones

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Rameau
Dardanus
Cyrille Dubois, Judith van Wanroij, Chantal Santon Jeffery; Purcell Choir; Orfeo Orchestra/György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD 924010   168:37 mins (3 discs)

‘This exciting and full-blooded account has more historic coherence than any so far of this great opera. György Vashegyi, who already has three Rameau opera recordings to his name, has mustered a uniformly strong cast with lively characterisation from Antenor and Teucer, alpha males pumped to the hilt with testosterone.’

Read our full review of this recording here

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Beethoven • Verdi • Wagner
Beethoven: Ah! Perfido, Op. 65; Fidelio – Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?; Cherubini: Medee – Dei tuoi figli la madre tu vedi; Mascagni: Cavalleria rusticana – Voi lo sapete o mamma; Verdi: La forza del destino – Pace, pace mio Dio!; Otello – Ave Maria; Wagner: Wesendonck-Lieder
Lise Davidsen (soprano); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Mark Elder
Decca 485 1507   63:28 mins

‘Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen is the most exciting new operatic presence for at least a decade and already, at 33, has a large repertoire of demanding roles. Her first solo recital album was greeted with universal praise, and I would be amazed if this one – much more demanding – isn’t given an even more ecstatic reception.’

Read our full review of this recording here

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Handel
Rodelinda
Lucy Crowe, Iestyn Davies, Joshua Ellicott, Brandon Cedel, Jess Dandy, Tim Mead; The English Concert/Harry Bicket
Linn Records CKD 658  188:32 mins (3 discs)

‘Against the odds, director Harry Bicket has gifted us the best-ever recording of Rodelinda. The Covid pandemic having forced Carnegie Hall to cancel a planned concert production, Bicket arranged to record in London instead, with the same musicians, each two metres apart. Many would find it impossible to do justice to Handel’s score while keeping socially distanced: blend, ensemble, precision and spontaneous reactions all require proximity. But in extremis this company discovered superpowers within.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Read more reviews of the latest Handel recordings
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Gounod
Faust (DVD)
Erwin Schrott, Michael Fabiano, Irina Lungu, Stéphane Degout, Marta Fontanals-Simmons; Royal Opera House Orchestra/Dan Ettinger; dir. David McVicar (London, 2019)
Opus Arte DVD: OA1330D; Blu-ray: OABD7285D   196 mins

‘This is a top-flight cast. In a sensitive, intelligent and finely articulated interpretation, Michael Fabiano humanises the doddering old philosopher tired of dusty old books and all too willing to sell his soul for a return to youth and love.’

Read our full review of this recording here

Six of the best… opera baddies

Passione
Tenor Arias by Bellini, Buzzi-Peccia, Cardillo, Di Capua, Falvo, Gastaldon, Innocenzi, Leoncavallo, Mazzucchi, Puccini, Respighi, Tagliaferri, Tosti, Trapani/Lange and Valente
Freddie De Tommaso (tenor); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Renato Balsadonna
Decca 485 1509   53:18 mins

‘Listen to Freddie De Tommaso at full throttle and you’ll need to lie down in a darkened room. Passione is singing in the tradition of De Tommaso’s hero Franco Corelli: stylish and heartfelt, spinning gold out of the simplest of popular Italian songs.’

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