Opera isn’t much different from movies and TV in the abundance of streaming platforms – which can be difficult and expensive to navigate.
Established entities such as Medici.tv and the Met Operaa On Demand are working on subscription models. Deutsche Grammophon phase + Functioning similarly, it is the only platform to broadcast the last staging of Wagner’s “Ring” from his home stadium at the Bayreuth Festival. Building your digital library of Opera on video is even more frustrating. The metfor example, only non-subscribers are allowed to rent individual products, but not purchase, for $4.99.
Enter the Naxos label, which has shrewdly acquired the rights to a wide range of opera productions in recent years and released video recordings on DVD and Blu-ray. And now that catalog, which includes offerings from Europe’s top houses, is popping up for digital purchase ($19.99) and rental ($5.99) on Amazon Prime Video. Here are five of the best Naxos deals.
“Tosca(Dutch National Opera, 2022)
Barry Koski is one of the most sought-after directors on the international circuit. He’s made his name with both comic and serious anecdotes, but this latest take on Puccini’s bloody shock shows that his tough style can work well with the classics, too.
There is a noticeable lack of scenic ornamentation during the intrigue and romance of the first act; We don’t even see what Cavaradossi is working on. But Koski concludes the work with a fantastical inversion—and it’s as powerful a portrayal of Scarpia’s homelessness as you’ll find anywhere. The Puccini thriller here is conducted with urgency by Lorenzo Viotti and sung so well by a young cast, at a speed you would expect of a slasher flick. And it comes in less than two hours.
“Atys(Oprah Comic, 2011)
Now for something fancy from the French Baroque. The legendary story told here, with Jean-Baptiste Lully recording, so fascinated Louis XIV that his affection became synonymous with music. The work then largely fell into obscurity, until an ’80s production at Comique put it back on the map. And in 2011, when a wealthy philanthropist paid tribute to an international tour of these powerful, high-resolution cameras are ready.
Conductor William Christie and his band, Les Arts Florissants, perform the score with a tight edge that cements the power (and vengeance) of Stéphanie d’Ostrac against the goddess Cybele. Likewise, Christie’s Players brings a glow to the love-making glee (or madness) found in Bernard Richter’s portrayal of the title character.
Eric Wolfgang Korngold’s operas have generally struggled to catch on with the repertoire, even after a brisk start during the young stellar composer’s rise in the 1920s. But in recent years, we’ve had lavish recordings of the composer’s brilliant musical dramas – including a Simon Stone production of “Die Tote Stadt” (documented on blu-ray from the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, but not yet broadcast).
Das Wunder der Heliane is even better than the hits of the popular Korngold films that followed his movement in the US and went on to influence the likes of John Williams. This recording is nearly three hours of orchestral raving, thanks to the work of the Deutsche Oper Orchestra, conducted by Marc Albrecht. Also no slouch: American soprano Sarah Jacobek, who proved flamboyant in the title role. Theater cut out, but music and acting ramp up.
“Matisse Der Mahler(Theatre an der Fin, 2012)
First came Paul Hindemith’s “Mathis der Mahler” symphony – an almost half-hour work that infuriated the Third Reich, and defended Wilhelm Furtwängler. Then came the complete opera, which premiered in Switzerland in 1938. The staging included the symphony music successfully, but did not displace the concert piece in the repertoire, in part because of the prohibitive cost of staging a three-hour opera about the role of art in wartime.
In Hindemith’s scripts, the title painter has to choose whether to take part in the “Peasants’ War” of the 16th century. The seriousness of the subject may seem forbidding, but imagining Hindemith’s vocal language—sometimes jarring, but always peppy and cautious—is so riveting it actually sells the philosophical stuff. A live but memorable Keith Warner show is likely the only chance many will ever have to see this work, so its inclusion in the Naxos catalog is cause for celebration.
Now how about indulging in a Weimar operetta? Here, you can take in the last operetta to open during the Weimar Republic, which premiered in January 1933, shortly before the Nazis did their best to erase a Jewish, gender-fluid theatrical tradition influenced by black American music of the period.
Once again, Barry Koski is the director. This was not the best operetta production of his decade long and celebrated command at the Komische Oper. It’s not even Jaromir Weinberger’s best show theatre. (This will be “Schwanda the Bagpiper,” as directed by Andreas Homoki in 2022.)
But the Frühlingsstürme remains a valuable document of Koske’s efforts to revive the work of the Weimar era. His terrifying presentation lends a startling twist to the comic reversals of fortune and maneuvers of mistaken identity. You can hear the snippets that a superstar singer like Jonas Kaufman is so keen to include in sample show tunes, but the entire show has a mysterious intoxication that the snippets can’t match.