Various Artists

100 Best Opera Classics

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100 Best Opera Classics, a six-CD set, includes nearly eight hours of some of the most popular music from opera's golden age, from the late eighteenth century through the early 20th century. The selections are drawn from the archives of EMI, and although these might not necessarily be THE definitive interpretations of these pieces, it can be assumed that most all of the performances here meet a high artistic standard. The sound can vary, because the recording dates range from 1955 to 2003, with the majority from the 1960s, but it is often very good, and always at least respectable. The pieces come largely from the standard Italian, German, and French repertoire, with Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Wagner, Massenet, and Puccini being the best represented composers. The rarities come almost entirely from neglected French repertoire, with selections from obscure operas by Berlioz, Auber, Adam, Bizet, Massenet, and Lalo. While there are some performances by singers of small reputation, the majority are by stars that anyone with a glancing familiarity with opera would recognize -- Callas, Caballé, Nilsson, Scotto, Schwarzkopf, Sills, Crespin, Ludwig, Corelli, Gedda, Pavarotti, Domingo, Fischer-Dieskau, Christoff -- to name just a few. The conductors, too, are generally top-notch, and include Beecham, Klemperer, von Karajan, Schippers, Haitink, Norrington, and Levine. The variety of repertoire, the quality of performances, and EMI's budget price make this a set that should interest listeners looking for a broad assortment of operatic classics.

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