Best Opera Blu-rays

February 25, 2018

Opera has benefited hugely from Blu-ray technology. Here's a list of 39 of the best opera titles to come out in the last 10 years (since Blu-ray was invented). We haven't seen all the Blu-ray operas, so this list is incomplete. But read the reviews of the operas below and you can't go wrong. First, we list our favorite Blu-rays of (more or less) traditional operas. Then we provide another group of (1) modern operas or (2) older works that have been radically updated with modern themes and overlays.

We would welcome suggestions from readers about other titles that should be on this list. The flare desginations here go to my personal favorites.

Traditional Operas

  1. Anna Bolena. Donizetti. Vienna State Opera. Anna Netrebko and Elīna Garanča. Modern sets with traditional-style costumes create jewel-like images of unbelievably beautiful-looking-and-sounding people in a bel canto universe. The end tears us every time (double meaning for "tears").
  2. La Bohème. Puccini. Madrid Teatro Real. Inva Mula and Laura Giordano. We still don't have the Bohème we deserve, but this one is best so far. Mula manages to really look like a pretty girl dying from a terrible disease. Laura Giordano is a fantastically beautiful Musette. Sad, sad ending.
  3. flare Carmen. Bizet. Royal Opera. Anna Caterina Antonacci and Jonas Kaufmann. Famous production has never been equaled in video.
  4. flare Così fan tutte. Mozart. Glyndebourne. Miah Persson and Anke Vondung. Beloved DVD translated well to Blu-ray. Immaculate confection puts you in a permanent state of suspended disbelief.
  5. Dido and Aeneas. Purcell. Paris Opéra Comique. Malena Ernman and Christopher Maltman. Deborah Warner, William Christie, and François Roussillon come up with an impressively short, taut, zany, and admirable version of Virgil's Dido story.
  6. Don Pasquale. Donizetti. Ravenna Festival. Claudio Desderi and Laura Giordano. Giant-killing, best DP video ever was probably the cheapest to make. Laura Giordano is the closest thing to Venus to appear on earth since the death of Homer.
  7. Elektra. Richard Strauss. Baden-Baden. Linda Watson, Manuela Uhl, and Jane Henschel. Three vivid female characters and Christian Thielemann dominate one of the most extreme sets ever created in opera.
  8. L'elisir d'amore. Donizetti. Ekaterina Siurina and Peter Auty. Meticulous and masterful story-telling from Glyndebourne makes a marvelous ensemble from a group of not-so-famous singing actors.
  9. Falstaff. Verdi. Glyndebourne. Christopher Purves and Tassis Christoyannis. Is Purves the greatest English actor since Alec Guinness? And he can also sing. And make you laugh and laugh.
  10. Die Fledermaus. Strauss II. Glyndebourne. Pamela Armstrong and Thomas Allen. Scintillating production beyond any criticism.
  11. Gianni Schicchi by Puccini. The Miserly Knight by Rachmaninov. Glyndebourne again! Alessandro Corbelli, Felicity Palmer, Sergei Leiferkus and Richard Berkeley-Steele. Two one-act operas about inheriting stuff.
  12. Guillaume Tell. Rossini. Rossini Festival. Nicola Alaimo and Juan Diego Flórez. Commendable production of Rossini's greatest and final work that forms a bridge between the classical and romantic opera eras.
  13. Jenůfa. Janáček. Madrid Teatro Real. Amanda Roocroft and Deborah Polaski. Intense and absorbing drama about the unusual lives of ordinary people.
  14. Katia Kabanova. Janáček. Madrid Teatro Real. Oleg Bryjak and Miroslav Dvorský. This is the one with the stage covered with water. Are the Janáček operas the ancestors of what we now know as the American soap opera and the Mexican TV novela?
  15. Lohengrin. Wagner. Baden-Baden. Klaus Florian Vogt and Solveig Kringelborn.  Impeccable production with an excellent cast. This is the source of the "Here comes the bride" wedding march music.
  16. flare Le nozze di Figaro. Mozart. Royal Opera. Erwin Schrott and Miah Persson. This is considered by many as the best opera video ever made.
  17. Porgy and Bess. Gershwin. San Francisco Opera. Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell. American opera full of famous music about black life in the old South. Fine video of an excellent production. This work was created by white artists who thought it was valid; black audiences have rejected it as kitch.
  18. I Puritani. Bellini. Met. Anna Netrebko and Eric Cutler. This is the one where Netrebko sings upside down hanging off the front of the stage.
  19. Ring des Nibelungen. Wagner. Met. Stephanie Blythe, Jonas Kaufmann, Hans-Peter König, Jay Hunter  Morris, Eric Owens, Gerhard Siegel, Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, and Eva-Maria Westbroek. This box with the complete four-opera cycle is in a class of one as the best recording ever of the Ring.
  20. flare Salome. Richard Strauss. Royal Opera. Nadja Michael and Michaela Schuster. The best Salome recording ever has, we think, something like a cult following.
  21. Tosca. Puccini. Royal Opera. Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann, and Bryn Terfel. An instant best seller.
  22. flare Werther. Massenet. Paris Opéra. Jonas Kaufmann and Sophie Koch. The opera stage is used like a movie set for a show that's quite different from what the audience saw. The result in the home theater is an intensely gripping drama.
  23. Die Zauberflöte. Mozart. Royal Opera. Will Hartmann and Dorothea Röschmann. Diana Damrau comes up with the most impressive Queen of the Night that we have seen. Although it was filmed in 2003, nobody has been able to top this version.

Modern Operas and Radical Revisions

  1. flareAriadne auf Naxos. Richard Strauss. Glyndebourne. Laura Claycomb and Soile Isokoski. Director Katharina Thoma comes up with a truly coherent AaN (hard to do). Sly shoplifter Laura Claycomb stuffs the whole show in her tote bag and takes it home (looks easy). So clever and funny!
  2. I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Bellini. San Francisco Opera. Joyce DiDonato and Nicole Cabell. Hi-style, fashion, and fidelity (96kHz/24-bit) update aims the bel canto cannon at the future, not the past (pun intended).
  3. Carmen. Bizet. Liceu. Béatrice Uria-Monzon and Roberto Algana. A nasty Carmen gets what she deserves.
  4. Les contes d'Hoffmann. Offenbach. Madrid Teatro Real. Eric Cutler and Anne Sofie Von Otter. Spooky, surreal version of the Romantic warhorse.
  5. flare Dialogues des carmélites. Poulenc. Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Patricia Petibon and Sophie Koch. The  best recording ever of what is probably the last opera (1957) to enjoy widespread popularity. The product of a true story reworked by 4 geniuses, our review includes a fabulous masters degree thesis from Gail Elizabeth Lowther that explains it all.
  6. Einstein on the Beach. Glass. Théâtre du Châtelet. Splendid rendition of the avant-garde classic in a package that may become a collectors' treasure.
  7. Experimentum Mundi (Experience the World). Battistelli. Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. Nicola Raffone and Peppe Servillo. One of the oddest of operas is played using instruments like metal grinders, shovels, sledgehammers, and cobblers' tools. Enjoy the music while you learn how to make a barrel.
  8. The Gambler. Prokofiev. Berlin State Opera. Vladimir Ognovenko and Kristine Opolais. Did you know the great Dostoevsky suffered from addiction to gambling? He even wrote a somewhat autobiographical book about the illness. Prokofiev used the book as the basis for this opera, which is skilfully rendered by wild-man director Dmitri Tcherniakov with Barenboim in the pit.
  9. Hansel und Gretel. Humperdinck. Theater Dessau. Ludmil Kuntschew and Alexandra Petersamer. Allegorical presentation in obscure Dessau venue towers over big-deal productions from London and Vienna.
  10. The Pearl Fishers. Bizet. Met. Diana Damrau, Mariusz Kwiecien, and Matthew Polenzani in the Woolcock version intented to be gritty instead of pretty.
  11. Rigoletto. Verdi. Met. Piotr Beczala, Željka Lučić, and Diana Damrau. Works better in Las Vegas than in old Italy!
  12. Rusalka. Dvořák. Bavarian State Opera. Kristīne Opolais and Klaus Florian Vogt. The water spirits become trafficked girls in Martin Kušej's powerful overlay. We will never forget the image of Opolais getting relief by wallowing in the aquarium.
  13. flare La Sonnambula. Bellini. Stuttgart. Ana Durlovski and Luciano Botelho. We have 3 beautiful versions of La Sonnambula, and this is the most modern one with tensions and emotions that seem very real today. Got an Opera of the Year award from Opernwelt magazin.
  14. The Tsar's Bride. Rimsky-Korsakov. Berlin State Opera. Anatoli Kotscherga and Olga Peretyatko. Everybody is crazy about this spectacular update, again from Dmitri Tcherniakov with Barenboim.
  15. Written on Skin. Benjamin. Christopher Purves and Barbara Hannigan. Royal Opera. Splendid video of what has been one of the best received new opera of recent years. Has nothing to do with tatoos.