Arias from Fidelio, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, Der Freischütz, Tannhäuser, The Bartered Bride, Hansel and Gretel, Der Rosenkavalier, Arabella and Ariadne auf Naxos. Works of Bach, Stolzel, Mozart, Schubert and Wolf
Elisabeth Schwazkopf, soprano, with various orchestras and conductors, Gerald Moore and Walter Gieseking, pianiss
EMI CLASSICS 85105 (B) (ADD) TT: 75:05 & 77:33

Arias from Werther, Manon, Romeo and Juliet, Benvenuto Cellini, The Tales of Hoffman, The Pearl Fishers, Carmen, Le Postillon de Lonjumeau, Mignon, William Tell, The Elixir of Love, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Sonnambula, A Masked Ball, Rigoletto, Manon Lescaut, Martha, Lohengrin, The Queen of Sheba, Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute,Eugene Onegin, Boris Godunov, The Gypsy Baron, Paganini and The Land of Smiles. Works of Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and Richard Strauss.
Nicolai Gedda, tenor, with various orchestras and conductors
EMI CLASSICS 85090 (B) (ADD) TT: 76:40 & 78:08

Arias from Pagliacci, The Marriage of Figaro, The Barber of Seville, William Tell, The Elixir of Love, Lucia di Lammermoor, Zazà, L'arlesiana, Adriana Lecouvreur, Fedora, Andrea Chénier, The Jewels of the Madonna, Tosca, Girl of the Golden West, La traviata, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Nabucco, A Masked Ball, La forza del destino, Otello, Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlo, and Falstaff
Tito Gobbi, baritone, with various orchestras and conductors
EMI CLASSICS 85096 (B) (ADD) TT: 73:16 & 74:12

Arias from Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Norma, Lohengrin, Der Rosenkavalier, Fidelio, and Tristan and Isolde; other works of Verdi, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Bach, Mahler and Wagner
Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano, with various orchestras and conductors
EMI CLASSICS 85099 (B) (ADD) TT: 78:13 & 75:26

Arias from Mignon, Manon, L'arlesiana, La traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, I Puritani, Cavalleria Rusticana, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Pagliacci, La forza del destino, La fanciulla del West, Gianni Schicchi, Turandot, Rigoletto, I trovatore, Un ballo en maschera, La bohème and Manon Lescaut; songs of De Curtis, Tosti, Di Capua, Cardillo, and two Sicilian folksongs
Giuseppe di Stefano, tenor, with various orchestras and conductors
EMI CLASSICS 85072 (B) (ADD) TT: 76:10 & 75:37

Here are five of the most interesting releases in EMI's new series "The Very Best Of" devoted to leading singers who have recorded for the label over the years. Each twin-CD set sells for the price of one full-priced CD, so for those who don't have many recordings of the artists involved this surely is a way to remedy the situation. A word about production values: Except for the Gobbi set, all of the CD notes are rather difficult to read, particularly the one for Elisabeth Schwarzkopf where the printing is a rather light red on blue, almost impossible to read. How about black print on white (or light) paper? A simple solution, indeed, one that eludes many record companies today. There are very brief bios of the artists, in three languages, with recording dates, orchestras and conductor information, but no texts.

All of these CDs are filled to the brim, mostly with excerpts from complete opera recordings. And there are treasures indeed. Schwartzkopf's set appropriately features much Mozart and Richard Strauss along with lieder of Schubert and Hugo Wolf and a brief Swiss folksong. Nicolai Gedda's set is outstanding, particularly the excerpts from eight French operas and arias of Verdi, Mozart, Mussorgsky and Puccini, ending with an elegant performance of "Dein ist mein ganzes Hertz" from The Land of Smiles. Tito Gobbi was EMI's principal operatic baritone and recorded many operas for them, particularly the 1953 Tosca with Maria Callas, from whch we have but a brief excerpt, along with arias as listed above, with the entire second CD devoted to Verdi.

Christa Ludwig's pair of CDs offers much beautiful singing, particularly the lieder of Mahler and Wagner, along with operatic music of Mozart, Bellini, Verdi, Wagner and Strauss—but nothing from the latter's Die Frau ohne Schatten, one of Ludwig's major successes which unfortunately she did not record commercially. Appropriately there is much lieder (as listed above). Giuseppe Di Sefano's set contains many jewels but not, unfortunately, his "Salut, demeure" from Gounod's Faust which contains a diminuendo from forte to a whisper on the final C—which Sir Rodolph Bing said was the single most beautiful moment he had heard in the opera house. Here the focus is on Puccini and Verdi, ending with a half-dozen Sicilian songs including O sole mio and Torna a Surriento

All of these are welcome compilation additions to the CD catalog, very reasonably priced.

R.E.B. (October 2003)