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A travelling companion for the road
on January 16, 2014
This compilation of operatic snippets is indeed a joy to listen to. 2.47 hours of pleasurable listening, individual arias and duets, and two choral pieces, performed by noted interpreters and in brilliant sound. So, why only three stars ?
First, because of the musical selections. Of the 37 tracks, 9 are from Puccini operas (and 4 of those are from La Boheme). Verdi gets only 6 entries, and two of them are choral numbers ! Go figure ? Except for Dvorak (a beautiful rendition of ''Song of the Moon, from Rusalka, by Lucia Popp), no other Slavic opera selection appears, The Austro-German repertoire, except for Mozart, is limited to one (Jessye Norman singing 'Dich, teure Halle', from Wagner's Tannhauser). Richard Strauss is mentioned in the advert for this collection but none of his operas are included. So, not enough variety.
Another reason is the limited pick of artists. Some greats of the past are present. Several deceased, like Maria Callas, Jussi Bjorling and Luciano Pavarotti; others retired, like Kiri Te Kanawha, Nicolai Gedda and Ernest Blanc. But many other greats of the operatic stage are missing, as another reviewer has pointed out. Instead, we have 6 selections featuring Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, separately or in duets. Fine performers both but there have been better. Another recent star, Natalie Dessay, with two entries (Delibes and Mozart), is a real delight, however. Fine stuff, but ... EMI has a trove of recordings, going back to at least the mid 20th Century. A mystery. So, a limited sample of the talent available on EMI recordings, especially from the past, represented.
There are other anthologies I would recommend above this one. The 6-CD set, "Best Opera Classics 100", also issued by EMI, in 2006. You get much more 'for your buck' in terms of selections and variety, and performers, and at a lesser cost. If you prefer live recordings of operatic performances, Opera d'Oro's, "Opera Obsession !", on four CDs issued separately (labelled as Acts I to IV), the last in 2007, is also a bargain.
I do really enjoy these operatic compilations. Perfect for me on the road, lightening and shortening (mentally anyway) my trips. I even sing along when my family (who have fine ears and good taste) are not present in the vehicle. Listening to a complete opera while driving, requiring more focus, diverting one's attention, could land the car in some ditch, or worse. (A friendly warning to other motorists with a passion for opera.) These 37 short segments, offered on this two CD set, about four minutes long each, should be quite safe (when multi-tasking), and they are fun to hear.