C. W. GLUCK: Alceste
Palais Garnier, Paris
Les Musiciens du Louvre
Marc Minkowski, conductor
CAST: Sophie Koch (Alceste); Yann Beuron (Admète); Stanislas de Barbeyrac (Evandre); Jean-Francois Lapointe (High Priest); Franck Ferrari (Hercule); Florian Sempey (Apollon); Francois Lis (Thanathos)
W. A. MOZART: The Marriage of Figaro
Grand Theatre of Geneva
Suisse Romande Orchestra, Grand Theatre Chorus
Stefan Soltesz, conductor
CAST: David Bizic (Figaro); Malin Byström (Countess Almaviva); Nataliya Kovalova (Susanna); Aris Argiris (Count Almaviva); Maria Kataeva (Cherubino); Marta Márquez (Marcellina); Christophoros Stamboglis (Bartolo); Raul Gimenez (Don Basilio); Elisa Cenni (Barbarina); Fabrice Farina (Don Curzio); Piet Vansichen (Antonio)
Deep down, as with many of Mozart's "comedies," Figaro isn't as funny as it first seems, with plenty of all-too-real human foibles, weaknesses, heartbreak -- and even treachery -- lurking beneath a slapstick veneer, and illuminated by page after page of glorious music.
LÉO DELIBES: Lakmé
Lausanne Chamber Orchestra
Lausanne Opera Chorus
Miguel Ortega, conductor
CAST: Julia Bauer (Lakmé); Élodie Mechain (Mallika); Daniel Golossov (Nilakantha); Christoph Berry (Gérald); Jonathan Spicher (Hadji); Boris Grappe (Fréderic); Céline Mellon (Ellen); Hanna Schaer (Mistress Mentson); Céline Soudain (Rose)
If you think you've never heard Delibes' strikingly beautiful Lakmé, think again -- you've almost certainly heard at least part of it. The famous, Act I "flower" duet turns up more often on TV commercials than in the opera house! But there's more to this unique opera than just that one, ubiquitous passage, as you'll hear in this production from the banks of Lake Geneva.
GIUSEPPE VERDI: The Sicilian Vespers
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Royal Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Antonio Pappano, conductor
CAST: Lianna Haroutounian (Duchess Hèléne); Bryan Hymel (Henri); Erwin Schrott (Procida); Michael Volle (Guy de Montfort); Jean Teitgen (Béthune); Jeremy White (Vaudemont); Michelle Daly (Ninette); Nicolas Darmanin (Danièli)
If you've ever wondered why some people think an opera's not over until all the characters are dead, this piece may be the reason. It has enough deadly plotting, and enough of Verdi's finest music, for several evenings in the opera house. We hear it in a recent production from the historic Royal Opera House in London.
CHARLES GOUNOD: Romeo and Juliet
Royal Wallonie Opera, Liége
Royal Wallonie Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Patrick Davin, conductor
CAST: Annick Massis (Juliet); Aquiles Machado (Romeo); Patrick Bolleire (Frère Laurent); Pierre Doyen (Mercutio); Marie-Laure Coenjaerts (Stéphano); Laurent Kubla (Capulet); Xavier Rouillon (Tybalt); Christine Solhosse (Gertrude).
Gounod's popular Faust is far better-known than this, later opera. Still, of the scores, if not hundreds, of musical takes on the iconic Shakespeare tragedy, Gounod's version of Romeo and Juliet is one of a bare handful that still hold the stage today -- making it a remarkable opera in its own right.
JULES MASSENET: Cendrillon
Grand Liceu Theater, Barcelona
Grand Liceu Theater Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Andrew Davis, conductor
CAST: Joyce DiDonato (Cendrillon); Alice Coote (Prince Charming); Ewa Podles (Stepmother); Laurent Naouri (Pandolfe); Annick Massis (The Fairy); Cristina Obregón (Noémie); Marisa Martins (Dorothée); Luis Cansino (The King)
With apologies to Rossini, this may be the finest operatic representation of the classic fairytale, “Cinderella.” In any case, it’s the most faithful, and it also boasts one of Massenet’s most appealing scores.
GIUSEPPE VERDI: La Forza del Destino
Munich National Theater
Bavarian State Orchestra
Bavarian Radio Chorus
Asher Fisch, conductor
CAST: Anja Harteros (Leonora); Jonas Kaufmann (Don Alvaro); Ludovic Tézier (Don Carlo di Vargas); Vitaly Kovalyov (Marquis of Calatrava/Padre Guardiano); Nadia Krasteva (Preziosilla); Francesco Petrozzi (Trabuco); Renato Girolami (Fra Melitone); Heike Grötzinger (Curra)
VINCENZO BELLINI: La Sonnambula
Grand Liceu Theater, Barcelona
Grand Leceu Theater Orchestra and Chorus
Daniel Oren, conductor
CAST: Niana Damrau (Amina); Juan Diego Florez (Elvino); Nicola Ulivieri (Count Rodolfo); Eleonora Buratto (Lisa); Gemma Coma-Alabert (Teresa); Alex Sanmarti (Alessio)
Better known for tragic dramas including Norma and I Puritani, Bellini also had a smash hit with this lighthearted romp, set in a village full of good intentions where even the thorniest problems are simple misunderstandings, easily solved. This production from Spain features one of the world's leading bel canto tenors, Juan Diego Florez.
GIOACHINO ROSSINI: Le Comte Ory
Lyon Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Stefano Montanari, conductor
CAST: Désirée Rancatore (Countess Adéle); Dmitry Korchak (Count Ory); Antoinette Dennefeld (Isolier); Patrick Bolleire (Governor); Philippe Sly (Raimbaud); Doris Lamprecht (Ragonde)
Rossini's penultimate opera is based on a medieval ballad about randy knights set loose in a convent. This version of the story is a bit more polite, with the nuns turned into a castle full of faithful wives, chastely awaiting the return of their husbands.