A Night at the Operaby blue_sock_monkey | created - 21 Dec 2012 | updated - 29 Dec 2012 | Public
With my ratings & comments.
We all know that many of the best opera recordings are only available on CD, rather than DVD. But sometimes, even if I can't get to an opera house, I want a fuller experience--costumes, staging, lights. Here are 30+ productions, all available on home video.
Some of my ratings may look wrong (sometimes very wrong) to you. But I've tried to consider each production as a whole, not just the singing and orchestra. Unless the cinematography is really wonderful or really awful, I've mostly ignored it.
I've included a few recommendations for CDs, just for fun.
- Instant Watch Options
- Movies or TV
- IMDb Rating
- In Theaters
- On TV
- Release Year
1. Aida (II) (1981 TV Movie)
163 min | Drama, Music
7/10 Gorgeous production design (alas, no elephants), and with a notably fine chorus. Price is fine, but both she and Pavarotti are outshone by a scintillating Toczyska. Overall, this is solid but not thrilling.
2. Un ballo in maschera (1991 TV Movie)
8/10 A fine if imperfect production. Pavarotti sings with ease; Millo is very very good rather than great; only Nucci's Renato disappointed me. Attractive period staging (yes, it's in Sweden as it should be), except for the strange dancing topiary.
3. Der Barbier von Sevilla (1973)
141 min | Comedy, Music
An energetic and pretty production, although the direction is strictly amateur-hour. Berganza plays the minx to perfection. Prey is rather too lightweight, while Basilio's famous patter song comes off like a damp squib. Great work in the pit.
CD recommendation: 1982, Neville Mariner conducting, with Agnes Baltsa, Thomas Allen & Francisco Araiza (Decca 2002).
The Metropolitan Opera Presents (1977– )
123 min | Music
Rodolfo and his friends are always broke or in debt, but that doesn't get in the way of fun or romance. When Rodolfo meets Mimi, it's love at first sight - but love is not enough for the penniless and sick.
A triumph (despite the obvious fact that Pavarotti has the sniffles). Delicious singing sweeps us along through this simple tale. The staging and costumes are somewhat bland, though I do like the sets. Every "Musetta" after Nishkin has disappointed me--her Waltz here has never been bettered.
CD recommendations: 1972, Herbert von Karajan conducting, with Luciano Pavarotti, Mirella Freni, Rolando Panerai (Decca 1987)
1974, Sir Georg Solti conducting, with Plácido Domingo, Montserrat Caballé, Sherrill Milnes (Sony 2005).
5. Carmen (1987 TV Movie)
172 min | Drama, Music, Musical
First-class throughout. Baltsa, a less naturalistic actress than Ewing, is irresistable; Carreras is both dignified and touching; an electric Ramey brings the house down. The dancing is unusually good, and the finale is superbly staged.
CD recommendation: 1977, Claudio Abbado conducting, with Teresa Berganza, Plácido Domingo, Ileana Cotrubas, Sherrill Milnes (Deutsche Grammophon 2005)
6. Carmen (1985 TV Movie)
164 min | Crime, Drama, Romance
Live stage performance of the opera 'Carmen', with minute set decors, realistic acting, intense and rich voices.
This one has an almost Dickensian atmosphere: sordid surroundings, lotsa dirty straw, mobs of irritating children. Sultry Ewing acts with great conviction, though I was less impressed with her rather nasal vocals; McCauley's Don José is more pathetic than tragic, and his voice is sometimes coarse, while Holloway's Escamillo is never compelling. But I absolutely loved McLaughlin's tender Micaëla, sung with a sweet purity.
Warning: The sound on the DVD is atrocious (especially the crunches and crackling of people walking through straw).
7. Carmen Jones (1954)
Approved | 105 min | Drama, Musical, Romance
Contemporary version of the Bizet opera, with new lyrics and an African-American cast.
7/10 Great vocals of often-banal lyrics, and there's far too much dialogue. Dandridge is vibrant; Belafonte makes a handsome but not compelling tragic hero. The setting (a WWII-era army base and city) works well. This movie contains the single most erotic moment in all opera: Belafonte blowing on Dandridge's toes to dry her nail polish.
8. Les contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) (1981 TV Movie)
159 min | Drama, Fantasy, Musical
8/10 The catalogue of sins against love--artificiality, greed, ambition--gets a nice work-out here. The design is dark and a little drab. The singing and interpretations are strong (though I wish "Stella" had sung all three of the lost loves).
9. Così fan tutte (1988 TV Movie)
176 min | Comedy, Music
7/10 I should have liked this better: The costumes and sets are appealing, Gruberova, Stratas et al sing well, it's a fine opera. And yet somehow it failed to charm me. Possibly it's the pacing--these must be the slowest recitatives ever recorded.
The Metropolitan Opera Presents (1977– )
Don Carlo, crown prince of Spain, falls in love with Elisabeth of Valois, originally promised to him but later married to his father King Philip, as part of the terms of a peace treaty ... See full summary »
Verdi's masterpiece done proud. Opulent costumes, intelligent staging, fabulous performances (except for Louis Quilico). Domingo's whingey, unstable yet wildly attractive Carlo is fascinating; Freni is lovely and dignified, a worthy heroine who made me care about her tragedy.
CD recommendation: 1970, Carlo Maria Giulini conducting, with Plácido Domingo, Montserrat Caballé, Shirley Verrett, Sherrill Milnes (EMI 2000)
11. Don Giovanni (II) (1987 TV Movie)
191 min | Comedy, Drama, Music
Splendid cast in terrific production. Ramey revels elegantly in slime. Fulanetto, Battle, and Tomowa-Sittow are stand-outs; only Winberg gave a thin performance. Stark sets add to the semi-surreal atmosphere.
CD recommendation: 1985, Herbert von Karajan conducting, with Samuel Ramey, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Agnes Baltsa, Kathleen Battle (Deutsche Grammophon 1986)
12. Don Giovanni (III) (1987 TV Movie)
176 min | Drama, Music
7/10 Allen is a splendidly self-deluded Giovanni; Gruberova a delicate, tragic Anna. Murray's Elvira, unfortunately, is not fiery enough, and Desderi's Leporello too is underpowered. An opinionated orchestra keeps the pace strong. Unmemorable sets and costumes.
13. Elektra (1981)
118 min | Drama, Music
Richard Strauss' classic opera version of the ancient Greek tragedy about the princess Elektra, who dreams of avenging her father Agamemnon's murder by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover.
7/10 Rysanek sings insanity like nobody else. But the acting and staging were so stylized that I felt emotionally distanced throughout. The dreary postmodern sets are mostly invisible in murky lighting. The production starts at such an emotional extreme that there is nowhere much to go with it (a fault with Strauss more than this production).
14. L'elisir d'amore (1991 TV Movie)
129 min | Comedy, Music
Battle is enchanting in every way; Pavarotti sings with great personality; Una furtiva lagrima is simply brilliant. Dara is the show's weak link vocally, but he's got the shtick down to an art, and his barcarolle is wonderfully done. The extremely pretty sets and costumes are like chalk drawings come to life--the perfect touch to set the mood for this joyous winner of a production.
CD recommendation: 1989, James Levine conducting, with Luciano Pavarotti, Kathleen Battle, Enzo Dara (Deutsche Grammophon 1990)
The Metropolitan Opera HD Live (2006– )
Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin
Onegin is young, handsome, rich. And bored. After spurning the naive Tatyana's romantic advances, he publicly flirts with his best friend's fiancée merely to amuse himself, but the prank ends in a duel. Some people just don't get it.
9/10 Stark setting (sort of Pushkin Meets Thornton Wilder's Our Town, with rather too many chairs and dried leaves) is effective in setting the mood for this somber production. Fleming never conveys the gawky awkwardness of the teen-aged heroine, but the opera is so well-sung it may not matter to you.
16. Faust (1975 TV Movie)
205 min | Drama, Fantasy, Music
8/10 Freni and Gedda really deserve a 10 for giving me a wonderful experience with an opera I don't particularly like. Everyone sings beautifully and acts up a storm. The simple sets and costumes work well; it's a pity the picture on my DVD is a bit fuzzy.
17. Lucia di Lammermoor (I) (1983 TV Movie)
128 min | Drama, Music
Sutherland and Kraus were past their vocal primes when this was filmed, and moreover I confess that it's disconcerting how much Sutherland here resembles Rupert Everett in drag. Nonetheless this is a hugely successful production: a splendid opening scene out on the moors, a glittering wedding sextet, an indubitably thrilling Mad Scene. Among the orchestral highlights: an exceptionally lovely harp solo preceding Lucia's first entrance. The costumes are a weird mix of periods (Sutherland is in mid-17th century get-up, while most of the cast is attired in Elizabethan, with bits of plaid pinned here & there), and the gothic sets are overly detailed.
CD recommendations: 1971, Richard Burgoyne conducting, with Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes, Nicolai Ghiaurov (Decca 1985)
1970, Thomas Schippers conducting, with Beverly Sills, Carlo Bergonzi, Piero Cappucillo (Westminster Legacy 2002)
The Metropolitan Opera HD Live (2006– )
Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
Lucia's nerves are already rattled, she's seeing ghosts and all. When her brother forces her to marry and her real boyfriend shows up at the wedding, that does it - she goes right over the edge. Sorry Arturo, she's just not that into you.
7/10 Frankly disappointing. The Victorian sets and costumes, while they make no sense whatsoever (was that the point?) are lovely; the Met orchestra under Marco Armiliato plays with energy and sensitivity. Kwiechien, Beczala (filling in for Rolando Villazon), and Abdrazakov are admirable, as is the chorus. But Netrebko simply does not deliver, either vocally (despite some lovely moments, she's actually flat more than once; coloratura is clearly an effort for her throughout the opera) or dramatically--her Lucia is more neurotic than insane, with minimal facial expression or bodily anguish. There's also some silly stage business (a comical photographer disrupting the famous sextet; the ghost of Lucia knifing Edgardo in the finale) that detracts from key moments.
19. Macbeth (2002 TV Movie)
140 min | Music, Drama
Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.
7/10 Thomas Hampson and Paoletta Marrocu sing Verdi (not one of his greatest scores) at the Zurich Opernhaus. It's exceedingly well-sung and acted, but emotionally distant--possibly this was merely my problem with the postmodern staging. If you are one of those sadly deprived people who don't already love opera, this is probably not the right introduction to it--Zeffirelli's Otello is far more accessible.
20. Madame Butterfly (1995)
134 min | Drama, Music
The story of a young geisha who falls madly in love with an american captain that travels all around the world collecting hearts.
Huang's voice is distinctly thin, but sweet. The other roles are fairly well cast, and Liang is excellent as the moral center. I find that realistic staging is a mistake for this ultra-faux piece of japonais, but the production is very pretty. My problem here is mostly with the direction, which is both amateurish and intrusive--and I certainly did not need to hear Puccini re-scored with live crickets.
CD recommendation: 1966, Sir John Barbirolli conducting, with Renata Scotto, Carlo Bergonzi, Rolando Panerai (EMI 2002)
21. A Midsummer Night's Dream (II) (1981 TV Movie)
156 min | Comedy, Fantasy, Music
Mistaken identity, unrequited love, and the supernatural are combined in Shakespeare's classic set in the woods of Greece on a moonlit night.
7/10 A Glyndebourne Festival production of Britten's opera, with a fine cast plus pretty sets and costumes. If you like this opera, this one should work for you. I confess that--given an Oberon written for contra-tenor, plus a few sopranos and a whole chorus of prepubescent boys gallumphing about as fairies--the score is a bit too squeaky for me.
22. Norma (1974)
160 min | Drama, Musical
8/10 This is the famously amateurish outdoor recording. Some find that the technical problems--the disruptive mistral winds swamping the microphones, the occasionally out-of-focus camera--add atmosphere. I wanted to hear every note, especially from the superb Caballé, because the performances are rousing. Never quite leaps into believability, yet the finale is touching and effective.
23. The Marriage of Figaro (1974 TV Movie)
180 min | Comedy, Drama, Music
With such a cast, this should have been exhilarating. But Skram lacks charisma as the arch-schemer, and is outshone by Luxon's naughty Count. The ladies balance rather better. Sets, costumes, and blocking are bland and sometimes clumsy. Overall, magic was in short supply here--except for the Act III sextet.
CD recommendation: 1981, Sir Georg Solti conducting, with Thomas Allen, Kiri Te Kanawa, Samuel Ramey, Lucia Popp (Decca 1983)
24. Otello (1986)
PG | 118 min | Drama, Music
Based on Shakesphere's play, Verdi's opera depicts the devastating effects of jealousy, "...the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds upon". Believing Otello has promoted the... See full summary »
Votes: 431 | Gross: $0.19M
8/10 Shakespeare goes to the opera, with excellent results. Ably sung and acted; Domingo is in fine voice here. A first-class production of Verdi's work, despite extensive small trims to the score.
25. Pelléas et Mélisande (1993 TV Movie)
159 min | Fantasy, Music
8/10 The opera is so strange in form, and so emotionally abstract, that it's difficult for me assess. This production is quite pretty; the visual symbolism, while obvious, is not too distracting; it's well-sung. The orchestra's pace was a mite slow.
26. The Pirates of Penzance (1983)
G | 112 min | Comedy, Musical, Romance
After a young man leaves a band of pirates, hilarity ensues.
Votes: 2,756 | Gross: $0.69M
7/10 Is this a wonderfully sung production? No. But it's colourful, frenetic, and great fun.
27. Rigoletto (1982)
128 min | Drama, Music
This summary contains the complete plot of the opera Rigoletto by Guiseppi Verdi. Rigoletto is a jester in the court of the Duke of Mantua. He has a hunch-back and he's rather unattractive,... See full summary »
I found this exciting, both in staging and singing (the opening orgy is perhaps gamier than many are willing to accept). Gruberova sings like an angel, and she made me believe in her self-sacrifice; Pavarotti's acting is stronger than usual here, a kind of Henry VIII on drugs. Wixell is outstanding in melding complexities into a unified character. The direction is competent but not memorable.
CD recommendation: 1978, Julio Rudel conducting, with Beverly Sills, Alfredo Kraus, Sherrill Milnes (EMI 1996)
28. Der Rosenkavalier (1979 TV Movie)
186 min | Comedy, Romance, Music
10/10 Jones is an exquisite, tenderly cynical Marschallin, matched in effectiveness by the radiant Popp. Fassbaender sings well, but is less satisfying as an actress (or should I say actor?). Sumptuous costumes and strong pacing carry it triumphantly through. The cinematography here is unusually good for an opera staged for the camera. Not to be missed.
29. Salome (1992 TV Movie)
105 min | Music
7/10 A solid production that nonetheless failed to move me. I'm determined to try this one again, though, to see if it was the music that I failed to connect with, or the show.
The Metropolitan Opera Presents (1977– )
141 min | Music
Giorgetta is on the deck of a barge doing domestic chores, while her husband Michele, the barge-owner, stands silently gazing at the sunset. Giorgetta offers a glass of wine all round; ... See full summary »
The Il Tabarro is a good production of a distinctly gloomy piece, done here troppo verismo. Pons, given the best of Puccini's vocals, is very strong; Stratas was rather screechy. Domingo is not powerful here, but has some fine moments.
I was more impressed by the Pagliacci. The cast is solid, and the melodrama (sobs notwithstanding) satisfying. Amara has the phoniest opera laugh of all time, but I still like her.
31. Tosca (1976 TV Movie)
117 min | Crime, Drama, Musical
Rome, June 1800, is ruled by fear, that is, republicanism collapses, and shifts to royalism. Scarpia, general of the secret police, on the side of royalism continuously commits many ... See full summary »
Exquisitely staged amidst wonderful Roman locations. Domingo is in fine form, especially in E lucevan le stelle. Milnes, too, impresses, and has a great death scene. Kabaivanska's voice is a tad matronly, powerful when needed, and while not a great actress, she puts the emotions across in a sort of Alla Nazimova manner. The production is filmed with effective simplicity and almost too much good taste.
CD recommendations: 1953, Victor Sabata conducting, with Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Tito Gobbi (EMI 2003)
1990, Giuseppe Sinopoli conducting, with Mirella Freni, Plácido Domingo, Samuel Ramey, Bryn Terfel (Deutsche Grammophon 1992)
32. La traviata (1982)
G | 109 min | Drama, Music, Musical
Violetta meets Alfredo and quickly falls for him. After the lovers run away together, they live in bliss for a short time. However, Alfredo's father, Giorgio, starts to interfere, concerned... See full summary »
Votes: 1,161 | Gross: $3.78M
This was my first opera as well as my first opera-on-film, and I was emotionally overwhelmed at the time. Looking back, I find it's more of a mixed bag: Stratas is unimpressive in the upper registers, the settings and costumes are sometimes over-the-top; and I'm not happy about the final scene. But Domingo is wonderful despite the weird make-up, and, overall, this still works extremely well for me.
CD recommendation: 1971, Aldo Ceccato conducting, with Beverly Sills, Nicolai Gedda, Rolando Panerai (EMI 1988)
33. La traviata (2007 TV Movie)
134 min | Drama, Music, Musical
In this live performance of Giuseppe Verdi's opera, Violetta, a courtesan much wooed by Parisian society, organizes a grand party that is attended, amongst others, by the young Alfredo ... See full summary »
9/10 Traditional staging, with a radiant Gheorghiu at the center. Vargas, too, is in admirable voice; his acting is not of quite the same quality. Maazel paces well in the pit. A very very satisfying production.
34. La traviata (2005 TV Movie)
150 min | Drama, Music, Romance
7/10 Why the low rating? Because it's merely sung well, not brilliantly. And the postmodern staging was too too precious for words.
35. Turandot (1987 TV Movie)
134 min | Music
Marton has a powerful and effective (though not pretty) voice; even Domingo--who sings here with great beauty--was occasionally swamped by the orchestra. Mitchell is warm and infinitely lovable, giving her death scene great emotional impact. The supporting cast is strong, and the costuming is fanciful and gorgeous; the sets were somewhat awkward. I enjoy this immensely.
CD recommendation: 1965, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli conducting, with Birgit Nilsson, Franco Corelli, Renata Scotto (EMI 1988)
36. Das Rheingold (1990 TV Movie)
163 min | Drama, Fantasy, Music
'Das Rheingold' tells the story about Alberich's theft of the gold from the Rhine, the forging of the Ring of power and sets off a cascade of events that further develop in the subsequent operas of the Ring Cycle.
8/10 Not the most visually appealing of productions. But it's solidly sung; the orchestra is remarkably good, with strong forward momentum; and there's plenty of dry ice and lighting effects to create atmosphere. I failed to connect with any of the characters except Loge, which I blame mostly on Wagner.
37. Die Walküre (1990 TV Movie)
244 min | Drama, Fantasy, Music
7/10 The saga continues. Much good stuff from noble Norman, perky Behrens (who is not always sufficiently powerful), and soulful Morris.
38. Siegfried (1990 TV Movie)
253 min | Drama, Fantasy, Music
8/10 Jerusalem--looking not unlike Fess Parker--brings a welcome energy into this installment. Behrens has an especially lovely awakening. But somehow the marathon duet didn't pack quite the wallop I expected.
39. Götterdämmerung (1990 TV Movie)
281 min | Drama, Fantasy, Music
7/10 A satisfying conclusion, though it felt rather a long time coming.
40. Sing Faster: The Stagehands' Ring Cycle (1999)
60 min | Documentary
With its four operas, seventeen-hour running time and months of rehearsal, Wagner's "Ring Cycle" is a daunting undertaking for any opera company. Jon Else goes backstage to show this rare ... See full summary »
7/10 An enjoyable if sometimes confusing look backstage as the San Francisco Opera mounts the Ring Cycle. There's no absurdly quasi-religious reverence here for Wagner or about the work the company is doing. But you may respect the singers, orchestra, and crew rather more after viewing this. Worth a look if only for the hysterically funny plot summaries provided by stagehands at odd moments in between shifting scenery and playing poker.
41. What's Opera, Doc? (1957)
Approved | 7 min | Animation, Short, Comedy
Elmer Fudd is again hunting rabbits - only this time it's an opera. Wagner's Siegfried with Elmer as the titular hero and Bugs as Brunnhilde. They sing, they dance, they eat the scenery.
8/10 Featuring a lovelorn hunter, his prey, and lots of small excerpts from Wagner's operas, especially the Ring. My favorite part is the interpretation of the Venusberg ballet.
42. A Night at the Opera (1935)
Not Rated | 96 min | Comedy, Music, Musical
A sly business manager and two wacky friends of two opera singers help them achieve success while humiliating their stuffy and snobbish enemies.
8/10 If you don't think this is a hoot, you don't deserve to go to the opera.