Opera - Duets & Choruses

CD 24 of 24

As the nineteenth century progressed, the libretto’s importance declined, the rise of the virtuoso singer continued and Grand Opera began its ascendency in France. These Grand Operas were long affairs (often five acts long) that included spectacular ballet and choral scenes and employed massive sets, quite often for no other reason than to provide a feast for the senses. Bel-canto opera (with the emphasis on the beauty of singing) gained prominence in Italy, with the beautiful sounds pushing the libretto into a subservient role. As for the singers, the castrato was out and the tenor was in, creating a new hero that saved the day and got the girl.

All of these paths led towards two men: Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901) and Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883). Wagner was the more revolutionary of the two, creating his Gesamtkunstwerk (complete work of art), in which text, music and plot were in balance, While stretching harmony to the limit (setting the table for Schoenberg), he fused the orchestral and vocal lines to support the drama. His leitmotifs connected objects, innermost thoughts of the characters and recalled or foreshadowed events in the drama. The continuous melody gave the orchestra an even greater role in driving the plot.

Verdi is the summit of Italian opera. His use of the overture in La forza del destino is one of the strongest operatic openings there is (CD 22, Track 4), his arias and duets still bring audiences to their feet (CD 23, Track 5; CD 24, Track 2) and his choruses are often the highlight of the show, the  Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore (CD 24, Track 11) being but one example. Aida, the grandest of grand operas, requires so many extras – human and beast – it is occasionally staged in sports arenas to accommodate them all and for pure spectacle, these productions can’t be beat! Admittedly, some plots are based on absurd premises and situations, but Verdi makes it work by ensuring his character’s react to the unfolding drama in passionate fashion. Beautiful arias sung by beautiful women dying of consumption (La Traviata – The Fallen Woman) or mothers throwing their babies into fires (Il Trovatore – The Troubadour) - it just doesn’t matter, the music is so strong we believe it all!  

Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924) wrote his works beginning late in the nineteenth century, writing well into the twentieth.  La bohème (The Life of Bohemians), tells the tale of impoverished artists and features “Che gelida manina” (What a frozen little hand, CD 23, Track 2).  “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore” (I lived for art – I lived for love, CD 23, Track 8) is Puccini’s achingly beautiful aria from Tosca. With music as touching as this, it is no wonder that he has captured the public’s heart and soul more than other operatic composer in the last 50 years – and having a number one hit doesn’t hurt either! His “Nessun dorma” (None Shall Sleep, CD 23, Track 6) from Turandot became a sensation after being performed by the Three Tenors to a world-wide audience.


Presently, opera is as popular as it has ever been, but operas written in the twentieth century have struggled to find an audience. There are exceptions of course; Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier of 1911 (CD 24, Track 14), and Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes (1945 – CD 17,Tracks 2 – 6) being two such works, but generally, opera companies look to the past. However, this does not mean to imply that contemporary companies are museums for crowd favourites. The old favourites are presented in new productions and virtually unknown works by famed composers make appearances that have proven to be hits.  We have only begun to scratch the surface of operas by Handel and Vivaldi, each with more than 40 to their credit, and due to the zeal of the Early Music scholars and enthusiasts, we are being treated to resurrected treasures of the Baroque and Classical era. Perhaps the future of opera lies in its past as there are still plenty of “new” operas yet to be seen and heard. 

Recommended Tracks   

Recommended Tracks

Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901):
La traviata | "Libiamo ne'lieti calici (Brindisi)
Various Artists
Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883):
Lohengrin | "Treulich geführt ziehet dahin"
Various Artists
Jacques Offenbach (1819 - 1880):
Les Contes d'Hoffmann | "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour"
Various Artists


(Please find our recommended audio excerpts for this CD on the bottom of the "Overview" page.)

      1. Carl Maria von Weber (1786 - 1826)
        Der Freischütz, J. 277
        1. Act 3
          1. 1.
            "Was gleicht wohl auf Erden dem Jägervergnügen?"
            Staatskapelle Dresden, Carlos Kleiber, Rundfunkchor Leipzig, Horst Neumann
      2. Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901)
        La traviata
        1. Act 1
          1. 2.
            "Libiamo ne'lieti calici (Brindisi)
            Ileana Cotrubas, Plácido Domingo, Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper München, Bavarian State Orchestra, Carlos Kleiber, Wolfgang Baumgart
      3. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
        Così fan tutte, K.588
        1. Act 1
          1. 3.
            "Soave sia il vento"
            Kiri Te Kanawa, Ann Murray, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Wiener Philharmoniker, James Levine
      4. Gaetano Donizetti (1797 - 1848)
        Lucia di Lammermoor
        1. Act 1
          1. 4.
            "Chi mi frena in tal momento"
            Cheryl Studer, Jennifer Larmore, Plácido Domingo, Fernando De La Mora, Juan Pons, Samuel Ramey, London Symphony Orchestra, Ion Marin
      5. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
        Fidelio op.72
        1. Act 1
          1. 5.
            "O welche Lust, in freier Luft den Atem leicht zu heben!"
            Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Wiener Philharmoniker, Leonard Bernstein, Norbert Balatsch
      6. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
        Le nozze di Figaro, K.492
        1. Act 3
          1. 6.
            "Crudel! perchè finora"
            Alison Hagley, Rod (Rodney) Gilfry, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner
      7. Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695)
        King Arthur, or The British Worthy, Z.628
        1. Act 3
          1. 7.
            See, see, we assemble
            The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock, The English Concert Choir
      8. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
        Don Giovanni, K.527
        1. Act 2
          1. 8.
            "Don Giovanni, a cenar teco m'invitasti"
            Vitalij Kowaljow, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Luca Pisaroni, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Vocalensemble Rastatt
      9. Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883)
        1. Act 3
          1. 9.
            "Treulich geführt ziehet dahin"
            Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Rafael Kubelik, Bavarian Radio Chorus, Heinz Mende
      10. Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924)
        La Bohème
        1. Act 4
          1. 10.
            O Mimì, tu più non torni
            Jerry Hadley, Thomas Hampson, Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Leonard Bernstein
      11. Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901)
        Il Trovatore
        1. Act 2
          1. 11.
            "Vedi! le fosche notturne spoglie" (Anvil Chorus)
            Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia, Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Carlo Maria Giulini, Norbert Balatsch
      12. Jacques Offenbach (1819 - 1880)
        Les Contes d'Hoffmann
        1. Act 4
          1. 12.
            "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour"
            Jacques Jouineau, Edita Gruberova, Claudia Eder, Orchestre National De France, Seiji Ozawa, Choeurs de Radio France
      13. Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901)
        1. Act 3
          1. 13.
            "Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate"
            Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Walter Hagen-Groll, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin
      14. Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949)
        Der Rosenkavalier, Op.59
        1. Act 3
          1. 14.
            "Ist ein Traum, kann nicht wirklich sein"
            Diana Damrau, Elina Garanca, Dominik Licht, Staatskapelle Dresden, Fabio Luisi
      15. Wozzeck
        1. Act 3
          1. 15.
            Scene 4 (conclusion) - Scene 5: Street before Marie's door. "Ringel, ringel, Rosenkranz"
            Wiener Sängerknaben, Wiener Philharmoniker, Claudio Abbado, Helmut Froschauer
    Playing Time 01:02:45