STRAUSS: Four Last Songs. Ach! Wo war ich? Tolt?, Ein Schönes war: hies Theseus-Ariadne, Es gibt ein Reich, from Ariadne auf Naxos. Verführung, Op;. 33 No. 1. Freundliche Vision, Op. 48 No. 1. Winterweihe, Op. 48 No. 4. Zueignung, Op. 10 No. 1. Zweite Brautnacht! from Die ägyptische Helena.
Renée Fleming, soprano; Munich Philharmonic Orch/Christian Thielemann, cond.
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HANDEL: Arias from Serse, Teseo, Giulio Cesare, Admeto, Hercules, Semele, Imeneo, Ariodante, Admeto, Amadigi, and Hercules.
Joyce DiDonato, soprano; Les Talens Lyriques/Christopher Rousset, cond.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 50999519038 TT: 75:08
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VERDI: Arias from I Vespri Siciliani, Il trovatore, Il corsaro, and La traviata. PUCCINI: Arias from Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and La Rondine. BELLINI :Casta diva from Norma. DONIZETTI: Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor.
Uping Zhang, soprano; Prague Philharmonic Orch/Giordano Bellincampi, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 37259 TT: 52:20
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RICHARD TAUBER SINGS FRANZ LÉHAR Excerpts from Friederike, The Tinker, The Merry Widow, The Child of the Prince, The Count of Luxembourg, Gypsy Love, The Land of Smiles, The Great Attraction, and Grand Duchess Alexandra
DUTTON CDVS 1912 TT: 76:44
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GIUSEPPINA ZINETTI sings arias from Orfeo ed Euridice, La favorita, Il trovatore, Un ballo in maschera, La gioconda, Carmen, Sansone e Dalila, Mignon, and Ninna nanna
PREISER 89715 TT: 77:37
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This is Renée Fleming's second recording of Four Last Songs, the first was in 1995 with Christoph Eschenbach and the Houston Symphony on RCA (REVIEW). That disk included five of Strauss's orchestral songs as well as a suite from Der Rosenkavalier. This new Decca issue, recorded during live performances in April 2008, is more generous vocally. In addition to Four Last Songs, we have four songs not included in the previous issue, three excerpts from Ariadne auf Naxos, and the Act II opening scene of The Egyptian Helen, with the Munich Philharmonic directed by Christian Thielemann. Fleming is in glorious voice throughout. She has specialized in the Four Last Songs for years, and it shows. I find the earlier recording superior orchestrally—Eschenbach brings out many fine points missing in the new one. Fleming's voice is also better balanced in the older recording; on the new one she is overly prominent. But it is a pleasure to hear Fleming singing Strauss, particularly the Egyptian Helen excerpt. Complete texts are provided.

Another first-class issue is the Handel collection titled Furore featuring the remarkable Joyce DiDonato. Most of the characters she sings are angry about something, all vividly and beautifully sung by the amazing mezzo, with Christopher Rousset leading the chamber orchestra Les Talens Lyriques in perfect accompaniments. If this repertory interests you, you'll not find it presented better elsewhere. Complete texts are provided.

Chinese soprano Uping Zhang has been on the operatic scene for more than a decade and has appeared with some success at Covent Garden in Madama Butterfly, Lucia di Lammermoor, Liú in Turandot, and Micaela in Carmen. Zhang made her Met debut in 2004 in 6 performances of Butterfly, and appeared again as Liú in 2007 for 5 performances. On this debut recording she can be heard in repertory listed above, recordings made in Prague in May 2008. Although Zhang has the required agility for intricate coloratura, unfortunatelythere is nothing special about her singing as heard on this CD. Everything sounds pretty much the same, thin and characterless, although the notes are there. Not a very auspicious first recording, and it does seem odd that playing time is but 52:20.

Austrian tenor Richard Tauber (1891-1948) had a highly successful career in opera particularly in Berlin and Vienna where he sang standard operas as well as new works at the time (including Korngold's Die Tote Stadt). In 1942 he sang music of Franz Lehár for the first time, the beginning of a long association with the composer who then wrote a number of works with Tauber's voice in mind. Lehár wrote the famous Dein ist mein ganzes Herz (You are my Heart's delight) for Tauber, and this is one of the works heard on this delightful CD, along with excerpts from many other operettas. Soprano Vera Schwarz is heard in some of these and she, too, has the perfect Viennese sound. All of these recordings were made from 1928-1933, orchestral sound is quite thin, but perfection of these performances is totally conveyed. Limited program notes, and, unfortunately, no texts.

The name of mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Zinetti (1889-1973) is unknown to most opera lovers but during her prime (1915-1930) she was much in demand mostly in smaller opera houses, although she did appear in Berlin and Vienna. On Preiser's disk we hear her recorded 1925-1930 in many mezzo leading roles including arias from Carmen, Samson and Delilah and Mignon sung in Italian. A previously unpublished test recording of Nina nana made on an unidentified date ends the CD.

R.E.B. (January 2009)