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#1 Ed Waffle

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Posted 12 September 2002 - 05:25 PM

The August issue of “Opera” has appeared on these shores, accompanied by a supplement. The supplement is the editors’ selection of the thirty all time great recordings of opera. Why a list of thirty, rather than ten or fifty is not explained, and how some of the recordings made the list and others did not is probably unexplainable.

Lists like this are fun—both making them and wondering why your favorite recording didn’t get on this particular list. They are always idiosyncratic which is one of the reasons why they are so much fun. In the current case, the sole recording available of “The Mask of Orpheus” by Harrison Birtwistle was one of the thirty, while none of the recordings of “Don Giovanni”, “The Marriage of Figaro” or “The Magic Flute” made the cut. “Cosi fan tutte” is the only Mozart work on it.

An excellent recording of “I Capuleti e i Montecchi’ (one I own) is the only Bellini opera to make the list—none of the zillions of “Normas” were found acceptable.

Despite these quibbles, I generally agree with the editorial board of “Opera”, largely since I have seen fit to purchase more than half of their top thirty.

I think a valuable exercise for this board would be to put together a list of the top ten, twenty, or whatever ballet videos, along with short (or long) explanations as to why they should be included. Robert Greskovic’s invaluable “Ballet 101” has an excellent videography, a place I often start.

It would not be necessary to come up with a definitive list, based on these recommendations. And it would be especially unnecessary for one to be a ballet professional or experienced ballet-goer to do one. I would look forward as much to the thoughts of someone who is relatively new to viewing this art as anyone.

Mayerling. This is a story that fits MacMillan’s talents. Royal Ballet. The dancers are astonishing and it has translated very well to video. Irek Mukhamedov dances like a god. Viviana Durante is almost too beautiful for words—eyes you could fall into them forever.

Giselle. The ABT with Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn, two of my favorite dancers. Fracci was the Romantic icon of the Italian ballet in the 1960s and Bruhn was one of the exemplary danseur noble. At first viewing the cinema type camera angles and cuts can be off-putting (they were for me) but it pays dividends if you stick with it. Probably should not be a first or only Giselle in a collection.

Romeo and Juliet. This one would make just about any list of mine because I love the score. The Royal Ballet. Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. Need I say more?

Swan Lake. What riches from which to chose! I will go with my all time favorite Odette/Odile, Natalia Makarova. Royal Ballet—her prince is Anthony Dowell. There is probably one with Makarova and Nagy, perhaps from the ABT, (at least there should be) but I haven’t seen it.

There can be lots of reasons for putting a video on you list, of course. In my case, I tend to favor dancers that I love. It is the same thing with opera—I have purchased recordings of operas I don’t like (or already have several different recordings of) to get one singer in one role. Or will attend a movie I expect not to like in order to see an actress I adore.

So, have at it.

#2 dirac

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Posted 13 September 2002 - 10:27 AM

"Mayerling" would make the cut for me, too. Not because it's necessarily a favorite, or because I'm a fan of Mukhamedov and Durante (although they're great), but just because it looks okay on the small screen, perhaps because of the relative intimacy of the setting – MacMillan tells much of his story through pas de deux and mime, which come across much better on television than ballet spectacle, IMO.


A favorite of mine, maybe my number one, would be the video of "Robert Schumann's Davidsbundlertanze." Almost the complete original cast, a documentation, however late, of Farrell and d'Amboise together, a small "chamber ballet" setting that suits television well – and it's very moving. (I must say that Adam Luders looked a little silly among the shadowed figures with the hats – like a demented crane.)


I'm sorry, any "greatest recordings" list ought to include a "Norma," although I grant you that I've never heard one that's completely satisfying in all respects. I nominate Callas' first, with Stignani and Whatshisname. Although I suppose if you're looking strictly at "overall quality of the recording" instead of "quality of the opera" you would get at least a few omissions of major works, and some odd obscure ones.


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