Carlos Kleiber's 1977 La Traviata is a rare gestalt among studio opera recordings, and it is one of the conductor's finer achievements. Kleiber knits the score together with unwavering rhythmic and dramatic intensity, never allowing any single moment to eclipse the larger scene or musical structure. The singers are kept on a tight leash – given enough room to shape phrases and cadences, but not to indulge in sheer vocal display. The orchestra is similarly focused on realizing every detail of rhythm, melody, and articulation with vivid intensity. As a result, favorite arias, duets, and ensembles melt into the surrounding scenes in a way that invites curiosity about the drama at large while propelling it relentlessly forward. The general pace may strike some as a bit fast, but it's never boring, and frequently brilliant.
Giuseppe Verdi's first big Paris hit, Jérusalem is an 1847 rewrite of I Lombardi. Along with a new French text, the action is clarified, characters and scenes are dropped, the tenor role is beefed up, and the obligatory ballet is added, among other changes. It's a more coherent opera in this version, although Italian audiences have clung to I Lombardi, which is still mounted on the world's stages. The Philips team, however, makes a powerful case for this French grand opera story of betrayal, love, war and rescue, penitence, and vindication painted in primary colors on a canvas of Crusaders and villains, rousingly set to effective, if blunt, music.
True lovers of opera know that Verdi’s Ballo in maschera was originally set in Stockholm, at the Court of Gustav III, King of Sweden. That first version was censured for political reasons and Verdi was forced to change names, setting and several passages of the score. But now, on the initiative of Philip Gosset and Ilaria Narici, musicologists of Casa Ricordi, Gustavo III has been reconstructed, thanks, also, to the recent rediscovery of some Verdian manuscripts.
"The Kleiber must-haves are two New Year's concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic (1989, from Deutsche Grammophon; 1992, from Philips). Here is the very essence of joyous music-making with the added visual value of the sumptuous large hall of the Musikverein in Vienna." - New York Times
The Vienna Carmen from 1978 is a sensational filmed document from the musical legacy of Carlos Kleiber: the meticulous conductor only ever conducted a highly selected repertoire, and among his very few audio and video recordings are only seven complete operas.
The epic grandeur of Der Rosenkavalier stems not just from its immense length (over three hours) but from the all-too-human complexity of its characters–each of whom is smitten with someone else–and the endless stream of graceful melodies the composer conjures. After the tonality-stretching dissonance of Salome and especially Elektra, Strauss moved onto a different musical path here: the music's sheer gorgeousness has given this most heartbreaking of 20th-century operas its pride of place in the repertory.