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A couple of years ago, soprano Leslie Garrett had a series on SkyTV where she identified "20 Operas to see before you die." Her list, in no particular order (that is, in the order they were listed on the Sky website):

  • Bizet's Carmen
  • Rossini's The Barber of Seville
  • Mozart's Don Giovanni
  • Verdi's Aida
  • Delibes' Lakme
  • Mozart's The Magic Flute
  • Puccini's Madame Butterfly
  • Tan Dun's The First Emperor
  • Wagner's Tristan and Isolde
  • Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress
  • Puccini's La Boheme
  • Mozart's La Clemenza Di Tito
  • Rameau's Les Paladins
  • Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin
  • Wagner's Lohengrin
  • Verdi's Macbeth
  • Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro
  • Puccini's Gianni Schicchi
  • Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole
  • Wagner's Parsifal

Of these, I've seen 10 (C, TBoS, DG, TMF, MB, LB, LCdT, EO, TMF, GS), been in 3 (C, LB, EO), and listened to 11 (same as I've seen plus TRP). I know absolutely nothing about the Tan Dun, the Rameau, and the Ravel, and very little about Lakme.

But I'm not sure I agree with this list. I suppose I can't argue too much with the operas I've neither seen nor heard, though I do know about them, and in all honestly I can't say anything about the ones I know nothing at all about. But then, should an opera unknown to an opera singer be included on a list of 20 must-see operas?

I suppose if I were to come up with a list, it would look something like this (noting that I haven't seen all of the following either):

  • Bizet's Carmen
  • Rossini's The Barber of Seville
  • Mozart's Don Giovanni
  • Verdi's Aida
  • Strauss' Salome
  • Mozart's The Magic Flute
  • Puccini's Tosca
  • Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier
  • Wagner's Tristan and Isolde
  • Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress
  • Puccini's La Boheme
  • Berg's Wozzeck
  • Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
  • Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin
  • Donizetti's Elixir of Love
  • Verdi's Rigoletto
  • Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro
  • Britten's Peter Grimes
  • Purcell's Dido and Aeneas
  • Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites

Lohengrin was the last opera I cut from the list, because I realized I had left Donizetti off, and no list of must-see opera is complete without at least one Donizetti opera. Not having seen Lohengrin, it was the natural choice, as I don't really know if it would be a better opera than Meistersinger, Siegfried, or Flying Dutchman — clearly, I am not a Wagnerian! I also struggled with Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle, which is one of my favorite operas, but I left it off because I feel the Debussy is probably more "important" and not too dissimilar because I suddenly realized I had left Peter Grimes off the list, an unforgivable omission, and because I felt I needed to include the Purcell (over Monteverdi's Orfeo or Coronation of Poppea or anything by Rameau, whose operas I only know the tiniest snippets of) as a representative or early opera. Also, maybe I should have left off Rigoletto and included instead Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. I think it would be better to expand this to a list of 25, in which case I would also include Bluebeard's Castle, Lohengrin, Pagliacci, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, and Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande… and now suddenly I want to expand this list to 30 — too many great must-see operas!

What would you add or leave out?


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 17th, 2010 03:10 am (UTC)
I need to introduce you to my friend theloriest, who is a huge opera fan. I will point her at this post.
Aug. 17th, 2010 03:39 am (UTC)
and now suddenly I want to expand this list to 30

Yeah, that's why I hate arbitrary-length lists like this. I keep wanting to add stuff. I'd want at least one Ring opera, that's for sure (Walkuere, if I had</> to choose).
Aug. 17th, 2010 09:13 am (UTC)
Being a Philistine, I've seen Carmen, and I suppose I should see The Magic Flute because of Mozart's Masonic connection, but otherwise I think that I will survive without intentionally trying to see all the operas on this list.

Cultural triage is what I call it. YMMV.
Aug. 17th, 2010 10:51 pm (UTC)
Knowing one's place?
"But then, should an opera unknown to an opera singer be included on a list of 20 must-see operas?"

Fair point, but are you the arbiter of all things opera? Do you know ALL there is to know about the genre at this stage of your career? (Most classically trained actors are not well versed (no pun intended) in ALL 'classical' plays.) Leslie Garrett thought enough of these to recommend them to lay audiences, that should carry some weight. Also, they were ones she recommended to see before you die, so, perhaps, your education is incomplete.

Humility I guess is not common amongst opera singers...
Aug. 17th, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Knowing one's place?
[I'm taking the bait… although you could have the courtesy to identify yourself if you're going to take me to task unjustly.]

I should point out a couple of things. First, I make no claims to know all there is about opera. In fact, I think I go beyond the call of duty to point out just how sorely lacking my education is, not having seen or heard several staples of the repertoire on both Ms. Garrett's and my list.

Second, I feel I raise a valid point. If a work is so little known by a well-educated practitioner of that craft, does it belong on such a list? The answer could be yes, and it could be no. I simply raise the question; I do not presume to answer it.

Finally, I think I made it crystal clear that I am expressing my opinion about these operas, that my opinion is not sacrosanct, and indeed that I am open to debating the merits of any opera's inclusion or exclusion on my list. I do not claim that my opinion is better than anyone else's, only that it is mine and that it is malleable.

Do you wish to add something constructive to this discussion, my Texas-based friend? Or do you prefer to sow a bit of discord from the safety of anonymity?

Edited at 2010-08-17 11:39 pm (UTC)
Alexander Arsov
Oct. 28th, 2010 03:15 am (UTC)
Interesting topic for some idle speculation
Let me first address the Texas fellow who seems to be a great deal more lacking in humility than the one he so lamely attacked. I am neither a singer nor an opera maniac; I can't even read music and I have never heard a note of opera by Purcell, Stravinsky, Poulenc or Britten. Of course the opinion below pretends for nothing else but being personal. I daresay it might be iconoclastic: I don't particularly care about Donizetti and I couldn't care less about Berg or Strauss (only about the operas of the latter; the symphonic poems I listen to with great pleasure).

So, taking the second list which is certainly more familiar to me than the first one and excluding what I already did actually, I wouldn't want to be without Wagner's 'Die Walkuere', 'Siegfried', 'Die Goetterdaemmerung', 'Lohengrin' and 'Der fliegende Hollaender' (I have this defect of character of being a bit of Wagnerian). Being also a tremendous fan of Boris Christoff, I can't imagine such a list without 'Boris Godunov' and 'Don Carlo' (4 or 5 acts, no matter, but always in Italian, please). Finally, a little cheating, 'Pagliacci' and 'Cavaleria Rusticana' counted for one, and I think this would make 21.

All the best,
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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