Monteverdi, Purcell, Gluck, Mozart, Wagner, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, etc

COMPOSERS: Donizetti,etc,Gluck,Monteverdi,Mozart,Purcell,Rossini,Verdi,Wagner
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Discover Opera
WORKS: Music by Monteverdi, Purcell, Gluck, Mozart, Wagner, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, etc
PERFORMER: Various artists
CATALOGUE NO: 8.558196-97
Long ago, before the last Ice Age probably, EMI mined their extensive opera catalogue to create an excellent introductory set accompanied by a highly informative booklet, called The Enjoyment of Opera. Now Naxos introduce a very similar sampler based mostly on their own recordings – seldom as stellar, but almost always lively and good value.

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That said, some of the choices and the accompanying text seem distinctly peculiar. For example, wasting the first track on Vecchi’s L’amfiparnaso, scarcely an ancestral opera with its commedia dialogues split between multiple voices. History progresses more straightforwardly from Monteverdi to Mozart and Beethoven; but then, weirdly, Wagner excerpts are dumped before Rossini and Donizetti, reinforcing the book’s assertion that he ‘found little support’ from the Italians. In fact their careers ended before Wagner’s got going. One could wish, too, for something from Naxos’s superlative Dutchman rather than their middling Tristan. And a clumsy regional breakdown means that on disc two Verdi and Puccini confusingly precede Berlioz and Bizet! Janácek is rightly included, but why the marginally operatic Bartók, and not Mussorgsky? For today’s composers we have John Adams, but also two tracks of Harrison Birtwistle, less significant internationally than, say, Philip Glass or Aulis Sallinen.

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In general, therefore, this isn’t as authoritative as the old EMI set, and the booklet is rather dull, not as ‘richly illustrated’ as it promises, and annoyingly, not including the texts. The music’s good, though, and, with some judicious advice, this would still be a handy present for a novice opera-goer. Michael Scott Rohan