Every year the opera companies record performances and bring them to the movie theaters. In the past the performances were broadcast on television, and some of these legendary performances have ended up on DVD. However, many historic video transmissions have been left on the shelf collecting dust. Youtube has provided (as you will see below) a great venue with which to watch many clips and sections of these great performances, but there is still nothing like being able to watch the entire performance through in the highest quality available and without interruptions to change video links. The following is a wishlist of some of the best (in my opinion of course) televised/broadcast performances never distributed and should really get some major consideration.
In no particular order, here they are:
1. Il Trovatore from La Scala di Milano- This is arguably the greatest recent performance of Il Trovatore recorded as it features the complete score without any embellishments. Riccardo Muti conducts the music with energy and commitment. Salvatore Licitra still in his prime sings with lyricism and beauty. Barbara Frittoli's voice is more beautiful than ever. Her technique is flawless and her phrasing delicate. Leo Nucci provides a worthy Count while Violetta Urmana's Azucena demonstrates why she should have stayed a mezzo. Her vocal power is impressive and musicality incomparable. The production while not perfect is not an issue. However the standout here is Verdi's music which finally gets its due respect and shines in its full glory. Muti and his cast omit the frequently used high notes in order to emphasize the dramatic elements without need for vocal distractions. It is a showcase for Verdi's perfect score.
2. Faust from Lyric Opera of Chicago-This production features the forces of Alfredo Kraus, Mirella Freni and Nicolai Ghiaurov. There is no better trio of singers that can match this performance. Freni sings with the passion that she embeds into all of her characters and which all young singers have come to admire. Kraus brings the elegance of his voice to the role and Ghiaurov brings a demonic color that no bass has been able to bring to role. This production is pure perfection.
3. La Gioconda from San Francisco- This performance is likely best known for the ensuing rupture between Renata Scotto and Luciano Pavarotti, but that is no reason to avoid releasing this gem. Scotto, who was criticized for singing roles that were too heavy for her voice, sings this tragic role to perfection and demonstrates why she will always be one of the greatest divas of all time. The production also features the virtuosic powers of Ferruccio Furlanetto and Luciano Pavarotti, also in their early primes.
4. Aida from the Met - This Aida features the legendary cast that includes Leontyne Price, Fiorenza Cossotto, James McCraken and Simon Estes, all arguably past their primes. However, all the artists provide committed performances to end Leontyne Price's legendary career. A historic night that deserves to be immortalized on the market.
Placido Domingo has numerous performances that have been recorded but here is a list of performances that are legendary and which deserve a place on the DVD shelves of Domingo fans and other opera aficionados.
5. Die Walkure from La Scala-A Cast that includes Placido Domingo and Waltraud Meier with Riccardo Muti conducting is a must have.In a recent interview (which I unfortunately can not find), Muti claimed to love this performance and production more than most he did. It is rare to hear Muti conducting Wagner, but he proves to be a worthy interpreter. However the reason for a DVD is Domingo's groundbreaking interpretation of Sigmund: A interpretation that would change Wagner's Sigmund forever. Instead of growling heard by most Sigmund's today, there was youth and charisma. Domingo's lyricism is arguably the best since the days of Windgassen and Melchior. Many may not agree with me but this is a career changing role for Domingo.
6. La Traviata from the Met-A performance which features Domingo, Cortrubas and McNeil. Who could wish for more? The leading Verdi interpreters of their generation, this production is one of the best Met telecasts in the company's history. Cortruba's sweet voice may not have the dramatic color for the last two acts. However her sweetness is fitting as it adds delicacy and fragile colors to the role of Violetta. Domingo demonstrates that he has a great lyric tenor. McNeil is chilling as Germont and James Levine's conducting adds urgency to Verdi's masterpiece.
6. La Forza del Destino from the Met- This production features Placido Domingo with a relatively youthful cast. Sharon Sweet, Vladimir Chernov, and Roberto Scanduizzi. Domingo adds dignity to the character to this most complex of Verdi characters. His singing may not be his most consistent, but it is hard to deny how good an artist Domingo is in this performance. Sweet is a revelation in the role of Leonora and Chernov brings youth to the character of Carlo.
7. Otello from the Met and La Scala- While I know that there are already four recordings of Placido in the role of Otello, these two represent the early interpretations of his signature role. They are both tremendous in their own individual and worthy of a release. They also feature some of the best interpreters of Otello including Mirella Freni, Pierro Cappucilli and Sherill Milnes. Levine and Carlos Kleiber are the featured conductors. For my money, Kleiber is the clearcut winner, but the Met version has many redeeming qualities as well.
8.The Queen of Spades at the Met-This performance shows Placido Domingo in a different repertoire. While he is not known for his Russian interpretations, this role is a staple and one of the most memorable performances of Domingo's career. It also features the russian prima donnas Galina Gorchakova and Olga Borodina. Dimitri Hvorostovsky is also at his best, singing with beauty and passion.
9. Lusia Miller from the Royal Opera House- While the Met performance is my favorite, this performance features the leading interpreter Katia Ricciarelli. Ricciarelli was recognized for her singing and embodying each character she played. This Lusia Miller is an example of what she was capable of doing as a singing actress. Domingo sings with the same ardor and drama that he does in the Met performance. Renato Bruson is heard here in his prime. Here he exhibits his qualities as a leading Verdi baritone. While there is a CD release there is nothing like actually watching these performers act out these roles. I will say however that the costuming here is in pretty bad taste. However, the singing alone merits a release.
10. Carmen at the Met-Domingo and Meier united for this controversial production of Carmen and while many did not like it, the two provided some compelling drama in this iconic battle. Meier may not have the ideal voice for Carmen but she is a first-rate actress and Domingo demonstartes why this was one of his signature roles. The performance also features Angela Gheorghiu in her controversial wig but singing beautifully nonetheless. It may not be Zeffirelli's best production but the performers are truly compelling.
11. Madama Butterfly at the Met-The great singing actress Catherine Malfitano added her dramatic gifts to the role of Cio Cio San. While not in her prime Malfitano's interpretation was a landmark in her Met repertoire. Malfitano is able to mix both dramatic power while still maintaining the girlish qualities of Cio Cio San. The production by Giancarlo del Monaco creates an intimate space that even Minghella's extraordinarily beautiful production is incapable of doing. The production also features the gifts of Richard Leech who unfortunately disappeared from the stages. Dwayne Croft also adds his signature Sharpless.
12. Maria Stuarda from Munich-Edita Gruberova is arguably the queen of Belcanto and it is a shame that none of her early telecasts have been released. The reason I chose this over her thrilling Lucia or her Donizetti queens is because in this production Gruberova is matched by the incomparable Agnes Balsta. Together they recorded I Capuletti e Montecchi, making it in my opinion the greatest interpretation to date. Their voices mesh so wonderfully and chemistry rivals even that of Callas-Simoniato. This performance is both thrilling and captivating and demonstrates how great Donizetti's music can be. The cast also features a young Simone Alaimo and the great Francisco Araiza.
13. I Lombradi from the Met-The performance features the premiere of I Lombardi at the Met. Luciano Pavarotti sang Oronte with passion and ardor. He brought his signature lyricism that was customary when he sang Verdi. Lauren Flanigan was spectacular as Giselda and Samuel Ramey added his beautiful bass to the role of Pagano. A highlight of this performance was the death scene trio and the violin solo played by Raymond Gniewek which preludes to the trio.
14. Andrea Chenier at the Met-The phenomenal cast included Luciano Pavarotti, Maria Guleghina and Juan Pons. In my opinion, this was Guleghina's show. Guleghina, a young artist back then was sensational and her voice while never perfect, demonstrated the passion and drama necessary for the role Maddalena. Pavarotti gave a worthy account of Chenier while Pons demonstrated that even the most villainous characters can have good qualities.
15. Don Giovanni from the Met 1990: Franco Zefferelli's later Met production of this Mozart masterpiece was released on DVD a few years ago starring a stellar cast headlined by Bryn Terfel and Renee Fleming. However, this Don Giovanni, starring Samuel Ramey, Feruccio Furlanetto, a young Karita Matilla, and the late Jerry Hadley amongst others is arguably the better performance. The Commentatore scene in particular is easily the scariest version of any out there. This Don Giovanni could easily be considered the definitive in many respects.
16. Le nozze de Figaro at the Met 1998: Featuring an all-star cast including the talents of Bryn Terfel in the title role, Cecilia Bartoli tackling another soprano role, Renee Fleming singing at her best as the Countess, Dwayne Croft, and Paul Plishka amongst others, this is a tremendous achievement. The production by Jonathon Miller is nothing short of gorgeous and James Levine provides one of his best interpretations heard on the Met stage. While controversial, Bartoli's inclusion and omission of arias makes for an interesting historic document in addition to being a marvelous overall performance.
17. Cosi Fan Tutte at the Met 1996: From top to bottom this is Cosi Fan Tutte is a demonstration of perfect Mozart casting. Susan Mentzer, Cecilia Bartoli, Jerry Hadley, Dwayne Croft, Thomas Allen, Carol Vaness join forces under the baton of James Levine (in all of his glory) to create one of the most fulfilling performances of Mozart the Met has ever captured.
18. Billy Budd from the Met-As I mentioned in my Billy Budd preview, the New York Times called this production a landmark for the Met. It features the villainous interpretation of James Morris and Dwayne Croft's youthful voice. It also features the art of the late Phillip Langridge. The production by John Dextor is perfection and Steuart Bedford conducts his last Met Performances.
19. L'Contes d'Hoffman from the Met-This is the magical Otto Schenk production that was replaced by the messy Bartlett Sher production. It features legendary singers Neil Shicoff, Tatiana Troyanos, James Morris and Roberta Alexander. The highlight here is Giuletta's act which features the great barcarole sung with charm and seduction by Troyanos. Charles Dutoit in a rare Met appearance conducts Offenbach's score with great energy.
20. Romeo et Juliette from Los Angeles Opera House-This production features the golden couple, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon in their brief prime together. For years they were the toast of the opera world before their split in the disastrous Lucia di Lammermoor at Met in 2009. However this performance features them at the height of their collective power. Anna Netrebko's voice is dark hued yet sweet while Villazon is at the prime of his voice. Their chemistry represents one of the best heard by any duo in years and as actors they are compelling and captivating.
This is my list but their are plenty of other great performances that have not released. Please share your lists of performances you would like to see released in the near future.