The very first operas were performed in Florence in the mid-1590s. Since then, musical styles have blossomed and evolved out of all recognition, yet opera continues to be heavily influenced by the political, social and cultural contexts surrounding its genesis. A collaborative enterprise, an opera brings together the works of composers, librettists, singers and designers alike, generating rich veins of public response and resulting in what is surely the most dramatic of all musical media. In this collection, we have brought together some of the most-loved operas, ranging from the elegance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni to the raw emotion of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. The lighthearted japes of Rossini’s Barber of Seville contrast royally with the pomp and spectacle of Verdi’s Aida, whilst the sultry allure of Bizet’s Carmen is the perfect foil to the lachrymose tragedy of Puccini’s La Bohème. This box is sure to entice any listener further into the magical world of opera.
Reviews of some of the original recordings that make up this set:
"Stanley Sadie once remarked that all Don GiOV117111iS should have an Italian somewhere in the cast, and it certainly helps this one to get off to a good start when Renato Girolami voices his 'None e giorno faticar' with an authentic accent and good Italianate resonance. Skovhus's Giovanni has lost something in vocal quality since the Mackerras recording, but he lives the role with conviction. A firm and sonorous Commendatore and a Masetto due for promotion strengthen the cast, while the Ottavio adds to its interest: a capable singer, who in his determination to make something positive out of this generally ineffectual character produces a charmless, rather hectoring champion brought in from some other opera, and not one by Mozart. Of the women, Adrianne Pieczonka, the Anna, is best, with clear, bright tones that just occasionally want hoisting a fraction higher to take those high As right in the centre. The Elvira is sympathetic and meets many of the technical challenges. The Zerlina, no soubrette but more a lyrical mezzo, has the knack of singing 'visibly'."
-- Gramophone [12/2011]
II barbiere di Siviglia
"Naxos's spirited new recording of II barbiere di Siviglia seems for all the world to have the crackling spontaneity of a live performance, replete with clever sound effects: creaking doors, rattling keys, tuning of instruments. But this is, in fact, an expertly mastered studio recording without the drawbacks of a noisy live audience. In other words, the best of both worlds.
The cast is bursting with future stars. It would not surprise me if the Almaviva, Ramon Vargas, were eventually to emerge as the superstar lyric tenor to follow the fading Luciano Pavarotti. Vargas can already do many things that Pavarotti never fully mastered, such as singing a true mezza voce tone, executing a messa di voce, and spinning out a genuine pianissimo. In fact, I think Vargas is the most thrilling lyric tenor to appear since the recordings of one Nino Florio were issued in 1944. (The world discovered Florio as Giuseppe di Stefano just a few years later!)
Ramon Vargas's recorded recital debut was reviewed in Fanfare 16:1 by Ralph V. Lucano, who admired his “bright, steady, ringing voice, seamlessly produced from bottom to top“ but found him “a bit monotonous in timbre“ and “a rather dour fellow.“ That isn't the case in this Naxos II barbiere di Siviglia, and Vargas emerges as the most seductively charming Almaviva on records, as well as one of the most vocally accomplished, vividly articulate in Rossini's divisions...Roberto Servile displays a fine cantante baritone as Figaro, exploding with energy and vigor in “Largo al factotum“...His bright idiomatic Figaro recalls those of Tito Gobbi and Gino Bechi. Another star in the making.
Of the three lead singers, Sonia Ganassi, an authentic contralto Rosina, is a true rarity in II barbiere recordings. The original Rosina, Geltrude Righetti-Giorgi ( was a contralto, and now for the first time in a complete II barbiere recording, modern audiences can hear the duets and ensembles weighted as Rossini conceived them. Though several mezzo Rosinas have produced good low notes in these ensembles (the brilliant Jennifer Larmore being the most recent), it is a revelation to hear Ganassi's rich contralto. The excellence of the cast continues with the veteran Angelo Romero's delightful buffo Dr. Bartolo, and Franco de Grandis's booming Don Basilio. The conductor, Will Humburg, expertly and judiciously paces the fine Failoni Chamber Orchestra."
-- James Camner, Fanfare [7/1994]
"Orgonasova's Mimi is impressive, indeed, her only real flaw is a slight reluctance to use her words expressively; perhaps (she has worked mainly in Czechoslovakia and at smaller houses in Germany) she has sung the role rather seldom in Italian? She sings expressively, with touching characterization and a real knowledge, which makes her death scene moving, of what can be achieved by quietness and purity of tone. In fact there is a good deal of intimacy to this reading, which helps the light-voiced, not really Rodolfo-size tenor to make his mark; a pity that he won't always allow himself to be helped, and that a touch of strain occasionally shows. The Iviarcello is light-voiced, too, but vividly alive, the Colline sounds a bit plummy but the small-scale Musetta is much more than serviceable. Humburg's direction is very alert, but he rarely seems as hasty and never plods. A decent recording, too, with a good sense of space. Well worth consideration by the hard-up collector, or by someone hoping to convert a young relative to opera, or simply by the collector of promising voices: we shall hear more of Orgonasova."
-- M.E.O., Gramophone [4/1991]
Catalog Number: 8501054
Composer: Georges Bizet, Giacomo Puccini, Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, Pietro Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: Alexander Rahbari, Michael Halász, Rico Saccani, Will Humburg
Orchestra/Ensemble: Bratislava Philharmonic Chorus, Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra, Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra Bratislava, Failoni Chamber Orchestra, Failoni Orchestra Budapest, Hungarian Festival Chorus, Hungarian Radio Chorus, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia, Slovak Philharmonic Chorus Bratislava, Slovak State Philharmonic Chorus
Performer: Adrianne Pieczonka, Alan Titus, Alzbeta Michalková, Angelo Romero, Anna Di Mauro, Anna Tomkovicová, Barbara Dever, Bo Skovhus, Boaz Daniel, Boaz Senator, Carmen Gonzales, Doina Palade, Eduard Tumagian, Elena Hanzelová, Elisabeth Norberg-Schulz, Fabio Previati, Francesco Ellero d'Artegna, Franco De Grandis, Georg Tichy, Giacomo Aragall, Giorgio Lamberti, Graciela Alperyn, Hellen Kwon, Herbert Lippert, Ildikó Raimondi, Ingrid Kertesi, Ivan Urbas, Ivica Neshybová, Ján Durco, Janusz Monarcha, Jonathan Welch, Joseph Abel, Jozef Spacek, Kristijan Johannsson, Kurt Rydl, Ladislav Hallon, Luba Orgonasova, Maria Dragoni, Mária Stahelová, Marian Smolarik, Mark Rucker, Miriam Gauci, Miroslav Dvorsky, Monika Krause, Nelly Boschkowa, Nelly Miricioiu, Nicola Martinucci, Ramón Vargas, Regina Schörg, Renato Girolami, Riccardo Ferrari, Roberto Servile, Silvano Carroli, Sonia Ganassi, Stanislav Benacka, Stefka Evstatieva, Torsten Kerl, Wilfried Gahmlich, Yordi Ramiro