WAGNER: Wesendonck-Lieder. Arias from Lohengrin, Die Walküre, Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger, and Siegfried.
Jonas Kaufmann, tenor; Berlin German Opera Orch/Donald Runnicles, cond.
DECCA 001802802 TT: 74:29

VERDI: Arias from Macbeth, Rigoletto, La traviata, Ernani, Il trovatore, Don Carlo and La forza del destino.
Plácido Domingo, baritone; Valenciana Orch/Pablo Heras-Casado, cond.
SONY CLASSICAL 88883733122 TT: 70:11

WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde
Martha Mödl (Isolde). Ramón Vinay (Tristan). Ludwig Weber (King Marke). Hans Hotter (Kurwenal). Hermann Uhde (Melot). Ira Maluniuk (Brangäne). Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orch/Herbert von Karajan, cond.
UNITED CLASSICS 2012131 (3 disks) TT: 229:26

Janusz Ratajczak (Manru). Wioletta Cghodowicz (Ulana). Barbara Skrla (Jacwiga). Leszek Skrla (Urok). Monika Ledzion (Asa). Jacek Greszta (Oros). Lukasz Golinski (Jagu). Bydgoszczy Nuovo Opera and Chorus/Maceij Figas, cond.
DUX 0793/0794 (2 disks) TT: 120:47

SONY 88883741632 (2 disks) TT: 53:51 & 41:02

Here's another terrific disk from Jonas Kaufmann. This Wagner collection features arias and scenes from six music dramas and Wesendonck-Lieder. The Kaufmann recordings, made recently in Berlin, find the tenor at his peak of performance. He has everything: power to spare, total security in the upper register, a wide dynamic range, uncommon sensitivity, and ability to caress gentle moments. This is a gentle superman of a heldentenor, at his best. You may already have heard his Siegmund from the Met and Mariinsky Opera; here we have an account of Siegmund's first-act Walküre scene including the two thrilling cries of Wâlse! In CD notes, Kaufmann justifies a tenor singing the Wesendonck, and proves it in his remarkable performance. The soprano version has had numerous recordings; this site has mentioned a number of them including my favorite, the 1947 RCA recording by Eileen Farrell with Leopold Stokowski conducting. However, Kaufmann proves this remarkable song cycle is equally effective sung by a tenor. The Berlin Orchestra is superb, with conductor Runnicles an expert Wagnerian conductor. Engineers have done their job particularly well. A wonderful CD! Complete texts are provided.

Plácido Domingo, born in Madrid in 1941, began his career as a baritone in Mexico in 1959. He quickly switched to tenor roles and since that time has become a marvel of the operatic world, singing more than 130 tenor roles on major opera stages of the world. In 2007 he announced he would sing baritone roles and did this for the first time, the title role in Simon Boccanegra, at the Berlin Opera, followed by 29 other performances of the role. He then added other Verdi roles (Rigoletto, I due Foscari, La traviata, Nabucco), and Massenet's Thaîs. This new well-filled CD offers music from the operas listed above. As one would expect, Domingo is a marvel—another episode in the career of a remarkable artist. Excellent audio, and complete texts are provided.

This historic live recording of Tristan and Isolde made July 22, 1952 in Bayreuth has been issued many times on private labels, usually at premium price. Now we have this essential recording in any Wagner collection at budget price,. Karajan's leisurely but powerful reading is challenged only by the definitive Furtwängler recording taped by EMI the previous month, with Kirsten Flagstad late in her career, but still in top form. Richard Osborne's CD notes in the new set mention that Karajan planned to record this production, but Furtwängler, no fan of Karajan, had just signed a contract with EMI that stipulated that he would record Tristan‚so Karajan could not. However, Karajan did later, in 1972, when he returned to Tristan for the Salzburg Festival with Helga Dernesch as Isolde. I recall the broadcast in which Dernesch couldn't quite cope with the role; during the EMI recording sessions she is much better, and this is another Tristan essential for collectors. The Karajan Bayreuth performance featured soprano Martha Môdl at her very best, totally in control, fearless on all those high notes—a thrilling performance indeed, superior to what is heard on her recently-issued Profil set (REVIEW). Ramón Vinay is a strong Tristan, and it is a luxury to hear Hans Hotter's Kurwenal. The United Classics reissue has excellent mono audio, no libretto. Osborne's notes also mention that the 1952 production was quite unusual, abolishing naturalism, with a slanted stage, no ship, garden or castle courtyard, and in the love duet only the singers heads and shoulders were visible. It isn't clarified who is responsible for this, but it does sound reasonable and probably was quite effective, unlike some of the recent abominations at Bayreuth, particularly this years insulting Ring. And don't overlook Karajan's 1959 La Scala Tristan with Birgit Nilsson in her prime (REVIEW).

This Mario Lanza set is issued in collaboration with Turner Classic Movies, described as, "a glittering compilation of popular ballads, opera arias, classic show tunes, and jewels from the Great American Songbook" including six previously unreleased items: Day In, Day Out, A vucchella, For You Alone, I'll Never Love You, Lolita, and I Love Thee. This might be of interest to Lanza collectors, and this set is issued at budget-price. However, it does seem odd that more of Lanza's opera movie performances aren't included, particularly as playing time on each disk is minimal. No texts, of course, CD notes are skimpy.

It took Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1940) over a decade to write his single opera, Manru. The three-act opera has a libretto by Alfred Nossing based on a novel A Hut Behind the Village by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski. Manru is considered to be the first Polish music drama. The opera takes place in a village in the Tatras Mountains. The peasant girl Ulana is living with the unfaithful gypsy Manru, to the distress of her mother, Hedwig. Manru has tired of Ulana and she visits the dwarf Urok to get a potion to restore Manru's love for her. Temporarily it works, but soon Manru returns to his gypsy life and the gypsy girl Asa. The distraught Ulana jumps into the lake, and Oros kills Manru. The tragic story provides plentiful opportunity for melodrama, but Paderewski's music, while always quite beautiful, has little excitement, even in the final scene. The influence of Strauss and Wagner is always apparent, and much of the vocal writing is in the higher register. Singers throughout are excellent, although tenor Ratajczak struggles a bit with the high-lying leading role. Manru had its premiere in Dresden in 1901 sung in German; .the Polish premiere ( in Polish) took place later that year. The Met premiere was February 14, 1902, with Walter Damrosch on the podium, sung in English. Although reception was favorable, there were only 9 performances and Manru hasn't been presented there since—and relatively few times elsewhere. .During his lifetime, Paderewski was highly honored as an acclaimed virtuoso pianist as well as a diplomat—for a year beginning in 1918 he was Polish Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. His music includes numerous piano (although one would not suspect this from his recordings) and chamber works, mostly forgotten except for the famous Minuet in G, Op. 14.No. 1. His piano concerto can be highly effective in a dynamic performance (check out Earl Wild), but his single symphony remains in neglect. And for good reason, which could also be said about Manru. This Dux set is the second of the opera (several years ago apparently the same label issued a performance conducted by Ewa Michnik). Recording details and dates are undefined on this new release, but the audio is excellent.

R.E.B. (August 2013)