Help me make an enjoyable Opera Mix!
March 22, 2015 9:43 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to start exploring the world of opera. Can you please recommend the names of some of the most popular pieces that I could compile into a mix (specifically to listen to while driving across country).

We're taking a road trip in a week out west. My fiance is really into electronic music, which is not necessarily my cup of tea (although I do like some of it). In efforts to contrast his beats with something more soothing and melodic, I'd like to step out of my predilection for indie rock/ambient and explore some beautiful opera to accompany the scenery. I'm looking for some recommendations of the more popular pieces as a starting point to exploring the genre. Any and all suggestions are welcome, especially if you are a fan/aficionado of any sort. Thanks!
posted by shrimpsmalls to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The soundtrack to Quartet will power you along the road!
posted by BibiRose at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2015

The Operamania CD set tracklist is a decent start. It's great fun for momentous running music too.
posted by srboisvert at 10:00 AM on March 22, 2015

The original Three Tenors concert is a pretty good start for the big tenor hits.
posted by hobgadling at 10:06 AM on March 22, 2015

I'm a casual fan, who listens to opera only occasionally. However, I do have some favorites:

"O, Mio Babbino Caro" from Gianni Schicchi: A beautiful aria, which in the context of the full opera (a brief comedy) is also hilarious.
"Ah, Mes Amis" from Fille du Regiment: It's fun listening to really good tenors hit all those high Cs.

You may enjoy listening to Operavore, the streaming opera-only radio station from WQXR.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:07 AM on March 22, 2015

Strauss' "Four Last Songs", particularly "Fruhling" as sung by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is absolute gorgeousness. These songs were the last he wrote before dying, and they have a beautiful resignment and wistfulness about them that I think is just exquisite.

Mozart's "The Magic Flute" is super fun. The Queen of the Night's aria is wonderful. Actually, all of it is great. I don't have a favorite recording/preference, but there are a huge number of them so you'll have your pick!

"O Mio Babbino Cara" (aria) is one you've probably heard. It was composed by Schicchi.

If you want a bit of the crazy, you could always put some of Wagner's Ring Cycle on your mix. Ride of the Valkyries is probably the most famous. Wagner's sound is dense, full and has a wall of sound feel about it. You'll know very quickly if you dig it!
posted by Fiorentina97 at 10:17 AM on March 22, 2015

Big opera buff and amateur singer here. Ideas:

"Der Hölle Rache" from The Magic Flute (aka Queen of the Night aria)
"Sous le dôme epais" from Lakme
"Dove sono" from Marriage of Figaro
"Quando men vo," from La Boheme
"Nessun Dorma" from Turandot
"La ci darem la Mano" from Don Giovanni
"L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" from Carmen
"Ho Jo to ho" from Die Walküre
"Casta diva" from Norma
"Dio Che nell'alma infondere" from Don Carlo
"Soave sia il vento" from Cosi Fan Tutte
posted by holborne at 10:31 AM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a classical singer, opera lover, and driver of a Toyota Corolla, I will make one caution: road noise does more to spoil opera than any other musical genre I can think of. It seems to exactly mask all the frequencies that give the operatic voice its richness and beauty and leaves you with only shrill unpleasantness.

Assuming you have that problem solved, though: are you interested in opera as a musical form, or as a dramatic form? A lot of the power of the genre comes from the dramatic involvement -- Tu che di gel sei cinta is a beautiful song under any circumstances, but if you know it's the singer's explanation for why she will commit suicide rather than name her lover, it will move you to tears. Der Holle Rache is always a spectacular display of technical fireworks, but if you know that it depicts a mother exhorting her daughter to murder, the sparkling coloratura takes on a much more menacing edge. Usually I recommend diving into opera not with isolated arias, but with entire works, for just that reason. But it's hard to follow the libretto of a piece sung in another language while you're driving.

If you want to start with whole works, I'd recommend Carmen, La Boheme, Don Giovanni, Die Walkure, La Traviata, and the Barber of Seville. If you want to take a slightly bigger risk and add one from the Baroque era, go with Dido and Aeneas (which is good, short, and in English). If you are looking for compilation albums, I'd strongly recommend going with albums put out by a single singer (such as Cecilia Bartoli's Mozart Arias or one of Renee Fleming's albums), because the artistic and production values are both a lot more even and just higher in general. Let me know if you want more detailed recommendations along those lines!
posted by KathrynT at 10:32 AM on March 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

One of my favourite Operatic things was an old compilation of live recordings of Maria Callas arias. The sound quality was kind of awful, but it was oddly compelling. I usually prefer live recordings of Operas to studio recordings, they just sound more 'lively'.
posted by ovvl at 11:47 AM on March 22, 2015

"O Mio Babbino Cara" (aria) is one you've probably heard. It was composed by Schicchi

Just for clarity: Gianni Schicchi is the opera, not the composer. The opera is by Puccini.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:11 AM on March 23, 2015

The best advice I got for starting to explore opera was "Get a highlights album." Seriously, pick out an opera or two (anything by Verdi or Puccini will work), and listen to it. You'll more than likely recognize some of the music. If you're feeling frisky, read the plot summary, learn what the individual songs you like are about/who is singing them, etc. Once you find an (abridged) opera that you like, then see about finding the complete version.

Seconding KathrynT's recommendations: Carmen, La Boheme, Don Giovanni, Die Walkure, La Traviata, and the Barber of Seville, and I love Dido and Aeneas, but I have a thing for Baroque.

For bonus points & fun, check out "La Boheme" and then listen to the soundtrack to "Rent".
posted by sazanka at 1:19 PM on March 23, 2015

IMO you get the best experience by listening to whole operas from beginning to end because then you can pick up on the repetition of leitmotifs, etc. So instead of or in addition to making a "mix" of different pieces from different operas, I would also bring a few whole operas to listen to. Carmen and Fidelio are two of my favorites. The Ring Cycle operas are looooooong but a lot of fun if you used to watch Looney Tunes as a kid.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:52 PM on March 23, 2015

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