Ultimate Opera [Box Set]

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Decca has pulled together a blockbuster collection of many of opera's greatest hits from the standard repertoire. The selection is heavily weighted to the nineteenth century, and to Italian operas, but it does indeed offer a generous sampling of what the general public understands as the staples of the repertoire. It includes one Baroque aria, from Handel's Rodelinda, and several from the Classical era -- two arias from Gluck's Orfeo ed Eurydice, and seven from Mozart's operas -- and the rest range from the bel canto of Rossini to the verismo of Cilea and Puccini. The selection is primarily made up of arias, but includes ensembles, choruses, and orchestral excerpts. The majority of the pieces comes from Decca's catalog of complete studio opera recordings, most of them made in the '50s and '60s. Decca doesn't stint in offering some of its most outstanding performances -- the star-studded list of singers includes Joan Sutherland, Renata Tebaldi, Birgit Nilsson, Marilyn Horne, Jussi Björling, Luciano Pavarotti, Franco Corelli, and Nicolai Ghiaurov. The performances are clearly labeled, identifying the singers, the conductor, and orchestra, making it easy for anyone wanting to seek out the complete recording from which an excerpt was taken to do so. Decca's sound during its golden age was state of the art, so the quality is good. This collection offers just what it claims to, and makes a generous introduction to the highlights of the standard repertoire.

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