So I’ve decided to continue the “best of 2013” lists, so here are the best CDs and books that I have acquired in 2013. Mind you, these were not all out in 2013, some of them are as old as 10, 15 years, but I bought them this year so there you go! I’m also organizing these in alphabetical order because I can’t choose which one is best. I’m also going to give the places and prices I paid should anybody be interested in getting any of them.
Angela Gheorghiu – My Puccini (2008)
I got this CD in my last trip to NYC at the Met shop for about $20, but it’s not on the website so here’s the Amazon link. I love Puccini with every fiber of my being and I think Angela does a great job in this Verismo repertoire. This is a two disc set, the first disc is a CD with some of Angela’s Puccini signature roles like Mimi (La Boheme) and Magda (La Rondine), as well as Angelica (Suor Angelica), Lauretta (Gianni Schicchi), Manon (Manon Lescaut) and Tosca (Tosca, duh!). The second disc is actually a DVD of clips of her singing and her reflections about Puccini. The tenor in this CD is Roberto Alagna which at the time was fine but now I find kind of odd. My favorite tracks in this are Magda’s part, specially the two arias and the end duet which is absolutely heartbreaking. I also liked her “Mario, Mario!”, it’s sweet and it sounds like they are having a wonderful time singing this piece.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky & Sondra Radvanovsky – Verdi Opera Scenes (2009)
This one I also got in my last trip to NYC at the MetShop ($19) plus this one is totally autographed by none other than Sondra Radvanovsky. These tracks were taken from a live concert they did together in The Great Hall of Moscow with conductor Constantine Orbelian. Now I’ve listened to this CD from back to back about a billion times I love absolutely everything in this CD. First it’s Verdi Opera Scenes with two of the BEST Verdian singers in the world. You have that GREAT scene of the beginning of act 3 of Un Ballo in Maschera, Amelia’s desperate plea “Morró, ma prima in grazia” followed by Renato’s “Eri tu” that is also so incredible, and it’s fun to hear the audience roar like CRAZY while clapping. Another scene that just drives me over the edge is the Confrontation Scene from Il Trovatore. HOLY. MOTHER. OF. GOD. They just ROCK this scene like no other! This is probably one of my favorite parts of this opera. Plus there are some neat solos like “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak’s Rusalka, “Deh vieni alla finestra” (PLEASE COME TO MY WINDOW!) from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca. It’s a great CD, buy it! And fun-fact, the trousers Dima is wearing in the cover are actually Sondra's, it does not get any cooler than that! Just for you guys to get a little taste of that Trovatore scene, here it is!
Jonas Kaufmann – Romantic Arias (2008)
This is yet another one I got in my last trip to NYC and also got it at the Met Shop for $17. Jonas has to be one of my favorite tenors and in this recording in particular he’s sounding quite dreamy. With the use of the most varied repertoire that ranges from Wagner to Massenet and from Gounod to Verdi and from Puccini to Berlioz he sings all those songs that makes us sigh for the tenor. His brilliant rendition of Carmen’s “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” is golden and his Werther is so passionate and heartbroken. Just as well as his De Griex from Massenet’s Manon, the hero blinded by love and his Cavaradissi from Puccini’s Tosca with his last words of love to his beloved. He makes you basically want to put him in a bag and take him home. And I think this is such a great recording because it has such a varied repertoire and you get a little taste of everything that Jonas does, which is great!
Joyce DiDonato – Drama Queens (2012)
I bought this CD on Amazon in February for about $16 (but now it’s $21) and it is also super signed! (all my Jdiddy CDs are signed) This is probably my favorite CD by Joyce DiDonato because I love every single aria in it and almost know all of them by heart (and that’s saying something when it comes to baroque repertoire). This CD is basically all baroque queen arias (which I thought was such a great idea!) with Alan Curtis conducting and Il Compresso Barocco accompanying. I wish I could have seen one of the concerts she did with Il Compresso Barocco with this repertoire, I have some friends who did go and said it was beyond incredible. If I have to choose some favorites in this recording they would have to be “Madre diletta, abbracciami” by Porta, “Lasciami piangere” by Keiser, “Da torbida procella” by Orlandini and “Mort ecol fiero aspetto” by Hasse.
Joyce DiDonato – ReJoyce – The best of Joyce DiDonato (2013)
I couldn’t possibly leave this one out. This was the very first CD I bought at the Met Store last October and it was about $19. As the name explains this is the best of the last 10 years of Joyce’s recordings but it’s so much more than that since Joyce let her dear fans choose most of the things about this CD. The title, the tracks, the cover picture was taken during a concert by a friend of mine, and also she filled the booklet with pictures of her fans (including me and some of my friends) and also quotes from fans (including mine), so it’s a real special thing and I’m so honored to be part of it. But on to the CD itself, this one is also a two disc set, first CD filled with mainly baroque repertoire (most of my suggestions made the cut!) and also some Mozart. Some of my favorites are “Crude furie degl’ orridi abissi” “Where shall I fly” “Scherza infida” by Handel and “Voi che sapette” by Mozart. The second CD is filled with belcanto specially Rossini and also some contemporary work she’s done. My highlights would be “Una voce poco fa” “Tanti affetti in tal momento” by Rossini, Strauss’ “Seien wir wieder gut!”, Jake Heggie’s “He will gather us around” and of course “Over the Rainbow”.
Olga Borodina & Dmitri Hvorostovsky – Arias/Duets (1997)
This one was a difficult one to get, I got it at Amazon from a random person for $7 but now they apparently have one left in store. I love these collaboration between singers CDs, they turn out so great and fun because you don’t get only one voice all the time but two alternating. I adore these two Russian jewels that are called Dmitri Hvostovsky and Olga Borodina and I think their voices sound incredible together. Both have that Slavic depth and darkness (not too much but some) that I absolutely ADORE. This is a fun recording with my favorite parts being the Il Barbieri di Siviglia exerpts that include “Una voce poco fa” “Largo al factotum” and “Dunque io son… Tu non m’inganni”. I also love it that they get to sing in Russian as well in this CD, the excerpts from Tsar’s Bride couldn’t be more beautiful. And finally to close the CD wonderfully they sing the act 2 duet from Saint-Saens Samson et Dalila “J’ai gravi la montagne”
Renée Fleming – Strauss Four Last Songs / Signature Roles at the Met Opera (2008)
I got this CD on Amazon for $12, great deal, specially because this is a double CD set! This is like all the best from Renée Fleming, she’s so amazing in the repertoire she chose for these CDs. First all Strauss bliss starting out with the Four Last Songs that are hands down one of the most beautiful things I ever heard followed by selections from Ariadne auf Naxos and Die ägypische Helena. And then we have the 5 things I mostly love Renée in. First the letter scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin that I think she gets so fantastically well and her characterization of Tatyana is probably my favorite! Then we have her signature aria from Dvorak’s Rusalka “Song to the Moon”, fun fact about this aria in particular, the first time I heard Renée sing it was when I saw her concert live, yeah, PRETTY COOL. Then we have her heartfelt rendition of the “Willow Song” and Ave Maria from Verdi’s Otello and the mirror aria from Massenet’s Thäis. And to close we have the last scene from Strauss’ last opera Capriccio. This is a wonderful recording to have!
Sarah Connolly – Heroes and Heroines – Handel (2004)
This one I also got on Amazon for $17. Mezzos are awesome, they get such great ideas for different kinds of CDs! This one is awesome, Sarah Connolly is famous for her baroque repertoire and even more for her incredible performances in pants roles. So I guess this was what inspired Joyce’s Diva/Divo. In this CD Sarah sings Handel ladies and lords. She sings a lot of Ruggiero (Alcina) my personal favorite is, of course, “Verdi prati” and also the hero Ariodante, my favorite piece is obviously “Dopo notte”. She also sings Dejanira which is one of my favorite opera characters, she’s so insane! Her “Where Shall I fly?” is priceless and incredible! Plus this cover couldn't be more awesome, her lady self looking at her lord reflection!
Sondra Radvanovsky – Verdi Arias (2010)
I also got this CD at Amazon for about $16. This is another one of those CDs that I listen back to back a billion times. Because A- Verdi is awesome and B- for me, there is nobody who can do more justice to these pieces than Sondra. Her voice was made to sing this repertoire so there is really no weak track in this CD. I love all of these arias but if I had to choose the ones I listen to more often I would have to say Il Trovatore’s “Tacea la notte”, Un Ballo in Maschera’s “Ecco l’orrido campo… Ma dall’arido stelo divulsa”, La Forza del destino “Pace, pace, mio Dio”, Ernani’s “Ernani, Ernani involami”, Aida’s “O patria mia” and Il Vespri Siciliani’s “Bolero”. Basically all of them, seriously, I left like, 3 songs out of that list. The coolest thing is that I got to tell Sondra how much I loved this recording and she was so thrilled, she even drew a little heart in her autograph. It was awesome.
I’m listing here first my favorite opera related books of the year with the long notes I always make and after some other books I read this year that I also liked. Everything in alphabetical order.
As Óperas de Richard Strauss (The Operas of Richard Strauss) – Lauro Machado Coelho (2007)
This book is actually by a Brazilian writer and it’s only available in Brazil and I’m pretty sure I bought one of their last copies back in July. This book is part of a great (and expensive) collection that talks about all kinds of operas, Baroque, Romantic Italian, French, Wagner Opera so on. And this in particular speaks only of Richard Strauss and it’s such a wonderful guideline to travel through Strauss’ operas and also to understand his compositional methods. The writing is filled with knowledge but it’s not stuck up and quite a pleasant read.
Another Brazilian author, I’ve had the great pleasure to actually watch two talks he did about voice types. He’s an opera history professor and an opera critic. This book is so delicious to read and I actually read it in various ends of afternoons at the beach. It’s a compilation of texts Sergio Casoy wrote for opera programs here in Brazil over the years. They usually tell a little bit of the story of the opera but also of the back story in the making of these operas which are always super cool and sometimes funny. How did Verdi decide he would write Otello? How long did Donizetti take to write L’elisir d’amore? Plus, this book is dedicated to my vocal coach! How cool is that?
Diary of a Redneck Opera Zinger – Jay Hunter Morris (2013)
I got this on Amazon but you can also get it at the Met Store. The funniest opera book I’ve ever read! This book is like a compilation of the best emails he’s sent to his family and friends while pursuing the career of an opera singer. Jay is such a sincere writer and his take on situations are absolutely hilarious. There are all sorts of words written the way a Texan would say them which really adds to the reading because you imagine a Texan with a real strong accent narrating these situations to you. Like the time a crazy lady asked him to keep in his freezer a dead frozen dog sized bird. Or the time when he ripped his pants right in the butt area in the middle of the last scene of a concert version of Carmen and the audience roared with laughed. Or the time when he saw some people slip in orange vomit just out of stage door. Or when he finally got his big break as Siegfried only 2 years ago at the Met. This book is GOLDEN!
The Inner Voice – the making of an opera singer – Renée Fleming
I got it on Amazon in the beginning of the year for about $16. This is the best opera singer guidance book I’ve ever read. I love it! I think I read it 3 times already and would gladly read it again, I’ve underlined and copied my favorite passages. I’m actually quite self conscious about asking Renée to sign it because it’s kind of worn out! I translated the introduction to Portuguese for my repertoire teacher to give to her students but those people are so clueless they barely read it. There was ONE (out of twenty people who say they want to be opera singers) girl who asked me if I could lend her the book and I did and she loved it, most of the others don’t even know who Renée Fleming is which is both sad and utterly unacceptable. But on to the book, Renée tells the story of her voice and about all her difficulties and insecurities growing up to become the absolute success that she is. This book is a MUST for anybody who wants to pursue a career in singing classical music, specially opera, it’s so great!
True Tales from the mad, mad, mad world of Opera – Lotfi Mansouri
I also bought this book on Amazon for $15. First of all, the foreword is by Carol Burnett, I mean, come on! How cool is that? These are the memories of stage director Lofti Mansouri, of all the absolutely insane things he’s been through in this truly crazy business. Plus he worked with big legends of opera like Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Renata Scotto, Maria Callas, Jesse Norman and many, many others. This book is the literally proof that we do this out of love, because there is no money that can pay being put through the situations Lofti was. Like having a patron from an opera house tell him that a certain young soprano had to play the role of the Duchess in La Fille du Regiment. Or have a Russian mezzo sing a role she barely even learned in an English version of Der Fledermaus, ah, and the singer didn’t speak English, like at all. It’s funny now, but it must have been hell back then!
Other titles that I read this year I thoroughly enjoyed that have absolutely nothing to do with opera are:
A Pocket Full of Rye (Agatha Christie) – Miss Marple’s case of various murders happening in the same house, you gotta love that old bird watcher!
Curtain (Agatha Christie) – Poirot’s last case, it’s just freaking GENIUS! And I was so glad I got to read it before the episode came out!
Death on the Nile (Agatha Christie) – ok, you noticed I love Agatha Christie novels, this is particularly amazing and with always such a surprising ending!
Eugene Onegin (Alexander Pushkin) – This is sort of opera related since it was because of the opera that I bought it. It’s such a wonderful work of art and even though it’s an English translation it captures some of the amazing essence of Pushkin’s words. Plus it’s written like poetry but it has a very narration feel to it.
The Big Four (Agatha Christie) – another master piece of mystery featuring my dear Poirot
The House of Hades (Rick Riordan) – Book 4 from the Heroes of Olympus Series which I absolutely love! It’s fun, easy to read and I read all the 600 pages in exactly 5 days.
The links for these last books are all from Amazon because if you live in the US the best deal is always to get it from Amazon! Well, I guess that's it! I might come up with another crazy list idea until the end of the week, I actually already have, so stay tuned. I'm watching La Boheme here in São Paulo tonight and I do hope I'm not enraged by what I see, my last experience in that theater was horrid to say the least. Ah well, my grade hasn't come out yet, so I'm suffering, so I appreciate any positive energy heading my way! Peace everyone!