When it’s freezing out—or cold by Los Angeles standards—it’s the perfect time to relax by the fire with a glass of wine or some hot cocoa and listen to music. For some, that music is Plácido Domingo’s “My Christmas” album; some prefer to buckle down for a little smooth, Kenny G jazz (his latest Brazilian Nights album is a favorite of mine). Other people—like my father—prefer winding down to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, sung by Maria Callas and Nicolai Gedda. The next time you’re staying in for the night, consider listening to one of these operas instead, with the lights dimmed, and your favorite beverage. You might find yourself a lover of opera by the evening’s end!
The Tales of Hoffmann – Jacques Offenbach
Returning this season, The Tales of Hoffmann is a perfect opera to listen to by the fire (inspiring, in fact!). It follows the story of poet E.T.A. Hoffmann, whose boozy recollections of the women he has loved and lost. Hoffmann recounts the stories of the fascinating women who captured his heart—wind-up doll Olympia, conniving Giulietta, fragile Antonia and elusive Stella. Hoffmann’s doomed pursuit of romance, foiled by sinister figures of darkness at every turn, ultimately lead him to a poet’s artistic salvation.
Listen To: Act IV: “Belle Nuit, o nuit d’amour”
Cavalleria Rusticana – Pietro Mascagni
If you’re looking for inspiration along with your relaxing opera-filled night, look no further than Cavalleria Rusticana. A relatively short opera as far as operas go, just over 70 minutes long, it follows the love triangle between Turiddu, his pregnant lover Santuzza, and his former, now-married love, Lola. For less time than it takes to watch a feature film, listen to a recording of Plácido Domingo singing Turiddu with Tatiana Troyanos as his Santuzza, or better yet, scoop up a copy of the 1978 Metropolitan Opera production of Cavalleria Rusticana, directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It makes a great holiday gift. The chemistry, heartbreak and sheer vocal dynamism of these two singers will have you wishing the opera had more than one act.
Listen To: Act I: “Turiddu, ascolta!” or Act I: Intermezzo sinfonico (Fun Fact: Michael Corleone dies to the last moments of the Intermezzo in The Godfather Part III)
La Boheme – Giacomo Puccini
La Bohème is another classic opera to check out during a laid back evening at home. It’s a riveting tale of six impoverished young bohemians, surviving only on laughter and the promise of love in 19th century Paris. This recording of La Bohème features classic opera stars, Jussi Björling and Victoria de los Ángeles, as the principal characters Rodolfo and Mimi, and is considered one of the opera’s best.
Listen To: Act I: “O soave fanciulla” or Act II: “Mimi e una civetta”
Manon Lescaut – Giacomo Puccini
Once again, we return to Puccini. His Manon Lescaut tells the tale of the title characters’ struggle between true love with the penniless Des Grieux and a life of decadence with the wealthy Geronte. Manon Lescaut was Puccini’s first smash hit and it shows. It’s difficult to find a more perfect opera—the music and characterization alone can drive the listener mad with envy. Last season, the Metropolitan Opera premiered a new, film noir inspired production of Manon Lescaut, featuring Kristine Opolais and Jonas Kaufmann. Can’t make it to New York? Check out this fabulous version of Puccini’s opera sung by of two opera titans: Plácido Domingo and Mirella Freni.
Listen To: Act I: “Donna non vidi mai,” Act II: “Intermezzo, or Act IV: “Sola, perduta, abbandonata”
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