New to Opera, have some questions

I heard part of Carmina Burana last year and decided I really wanted to buy it. I have a few copies, and recently bought Der Mond.

I also bought a version of Carmen, but the surface noise was too much. I was disappointed because I liked the music, and singing.

I'm wondering what other Opera's people might suggest, and does it make any difference to most listeners if they can understand the language? I like Der Mond because I do speak some German.
Opera is one of those things that was "forced" upon me as a kid as my parents were "Deadheads" of the U.S. & European Opera Scene. My personal feelings towards opera is that there is no comparison to seeing it live...even more so than a "music only" event.

One of my primary reasonings is that there is more than just the music, there is a story to be followed...some very simple while others are quite complex. This leads to the foreign language issue that you mention...I myself need the supra-titles in the opera house to keep me up to speed with the story as I'm still somewhat of a newbie to the art.

I personally don't listen to opera on my system but if I were going to, I think that a better way to enjoy it would be with a dvd or laserdisc. Even though it isn't "live", you still get a chance to appreciate what different companies have to offer with the set/production design, the orchestra and you get subtitles to boot.

If it were just for music, I would have to say that the most beautiful opera I have heard is Bizet's 'The Pearl Fishers'

I would recommend hitting up the local library and seeing what they might have in their collections so you'll be able to see which version of an opera you might like the most...but definitely go see a live performance if you can...if it's a good one, you'll be in for a treat!

just my 2c...FWIW


Ellery911 is right, it is better to see an opera than just listen to one. I got into opera via laserdisc, and I got hooked. Now have some on dvd, but find I never listen to my opera cd's anymore. If you want to try a gorgeous dvd, try the operetta "The Merry Widow", which was done at the San Francisco Opera house, and filmed by the BBC. Available at This thing has fantastic costumes and sets, the music is also gorgeous, and I never get tired of watching this.!
I think you could just let your interest develop. If not understanding the language becomes an issue you cannot come to terms with, you will likely lose interest & move on to something else. On the other hand, it is possible that the music may draw you in to the extent that you will be inspired to learn the language -more, the culture that inspired the opera in the first place. There is a potential for interest in opera on a number of different levels and it could be enormously rewarding to the right person.However, there is no reason why this should be the music for you. It is just another avenue, and its value is entirely relative and not absolute.
Several members of my family were/are associated with the Metropolitan Opera in NY. as a result, I have been "exposed" to opera, but I would not consider myself a fan. That being said, I can suggest what I consider to be a very accessible opera as a way of easing into these types of works: Aaron Copeland's "The Tender Land". As far as I know, there is only one recording of the entire opera, and that is by the Minnesota Opera Chorus. It's a wonderful opera about a midwest farm family, music has that Copland-esqe American feeling. Bonus: It's in English!

For traditional European opera, some of the Mozart operas are easy on the ears (Magic Flute, Marriage of Figaro).

Female voices: Montserrat Cabal, Dorothy Kirsten, Callas
I totally hated opera until the Three Tenors Concert in 1990 was aired repeatedly on PBS in my area as part of a fundraising campaign. The quality of the performances and the camaraderie of the performers swayed me. It must have been a wonderful experience to witness it live.
Try that one, and I would strongly suggest Tosca, esp. the one with Placido Domingo and Hildergarde Behrens.
Joan Sutherland ~ The Art of the Prima Donna. I purchased it based on a recommendation from this forum and I was not disappointed. You can sample some of the tracks on Amazon or try this link. It's not a complete Opera but the performance by Joan Sutherland is nothing short of spectacular.
As Ellery911 an Sid42 point out, there is no substitute for seeing live performances of operas. Most opera houses now have supertitles, which removes the requirement for an understanding of the language. It is also true, as has also been pointed out, that DVD and laserdisc versions of operas are quite enjoyable. The Metropolitan Opera DVD (and laserdisc) of Carmen is certainly worth watching. In fact, "The Met" has recorded many operas, and they are available on DVD. Wagner's Ring cycle is also splendid, but all of these productions are worth owning: one watches them again and again.
Try Tosca with Maria Callas. It's from the 50s and monaural but worth a listen. I'm also a fan of some of the earlier stuff such as Montiverdi.
Pretty much any opera by Mozart. Then again, I am very partial to Wolfie. :)
I respectfully disagree with Ellery911 and some of the others. As a professional orchestral musician, I've sat in my fair share of orchestra pits, and I've had quite a lot of experience with opera. You DON'T need to know the language or have supertitles to the enjoy the opera. While nothing subsitutes for a real staged performance, there's plenty to be said for listening to the music without having a visual cue. In fact, opera singers perform arias all the time as concert pieces, with no staging.

There are some amazing operas out there, and some amazing performances. For me, Mozart has always been the pinnacle. The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute, as well as Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutti, are all great places to start.

Good luck!
In addition to the Callas recording of Puccini's Tosca that was mentioned by Rja, I would suggest Puccini's La Boheme. I have been listening to von Karajan's 1972 Decca recording, which features Pavrotti in his prime. I own this recording on vinyl, and the sound is spectacular. Here is a link to the CD version of the recording:

Puccini: La Boheme

The music is simply beautiful, and there is no need to understand the Italian language or see the performance to appreciate this musical masterpiece. Also, this opera is very manageable in length (70 minutes), so it is a work that you can appreciate in one sitting without ever feeling that you are sitting through a marathon.
I just noticed that Archiv Music indicates the length of the von Karajan/Pavrotti La Boheme recording is 110 minutes, so it would appear I underestimated the length of the recording. My estimate was based on the fact that the LP version of this recording is only four LP sides. Nonetheless, it is very manageable and enjoyable to listen to this entire recording in a single listening session.
I think I can help with your question here. I'm a retired university professor who's been an audiophile and classical music and opera buff for 40 years. In addition to having a large classical and opera CD collection, I've been attending live performances of operas for more than 40 years, and I've helped a number of "new to opera" persons like yourself get into opera.

I recommend starting with Puccini's La Boheme, and I'd recommend the Decca/London recording with Tebaldi and Bergonzi, Tullio Serafin conducting. This is an opera that everyone seems to love; it has probably "hooked" more people just getting into opera than any other opera. This recording has excellent singing and excellent sound. It has the additional advantage of being budget-priced and being available in either a "highlights" version (1 CD) or the complete opera (2 CDs). The Freni/Pavarotti/von Karajan version, also on Decca/London, is also very good, although I don't like it as well as the more idiomatic Serafin version.

For a second opera, I'd recommend Puccini's Madama Butterly, and again I'd recommend the Decca/London recording with Tebaldi and Bergonzi, Tullio Serafin conducting. Again, this one is another great favorite with almost everyone, and again, this recording has excellent singing and excellent sound, and has the advantage of being budget-priced and being available in either a "highlights" version (1 CD) or the complete opera (2 CDs).

After these two for openers, I'd recommend Verdi's La Traviata, in the Decca/London recording with Sutherland, Bergonzi, and Merrill, Sir John Pritchard conducting. This is perhaps the most popular of the Verdi operas, and again this recording has excellent singing and outstanding sound, and has the advantage of being budget-priced and being available in either a "highlights" version (1 CD) or the complete opera (2 CDs).

You mention Carmen, and that's a good place to start with French opera. I'd recommend the Troyanos/Domingo/Solti recording on Decca/London. Carmen is the most popular of the French operas, and again this recording has excellent singing and excellent sound. The complete opera is 3 CDs, but a single-CD "highlights" version is available.

For a second French opera I'd recommend Gounod's Faust, in the Sutherland/Corelli/Ghiarov/Bonynge recording on Decca/London. Faust is another perennially popular opera, with a terrific, smashing grand finale (quite spectacular in this recording). Again, first-rate singing and excellent sound. The complete opera is 3 CDs, but a single-CD "highlights" version is available.

For a Mozart opera, I'd recommend Don Giovanni in the Wachter/Schwarzkopf/Sutherland/Giuilini recording on EMI. Don Giovanni is the greatest of the Mozart operas, and this is a beautiful, very well-sung performance of it. The complete opera is 3 CDs, but a single-CD "highlights" version is available.

I've tried to limit these few recommendations to (1) operas that are very popular, appealing, and accessible; (2) recordings that have excellent singing; and (3) recordings that have first-rate stereo sound. The famous recording of Puccini's Tosca (2 CDs) with Callas/Di Stefano/Gobbi/De Sabbata on EMI is one of the greatest opera recordings ever made (some think it is the greatest), and Tosca is a very popular opera, but be forewarned that this recording has dated 1950 monaural sound.

Finally, I'll point out that Carmina Burana, which I too enjoy very much (I've got several good CD versions) is not an opera. It's a cantata. An opera is a play, a drama, set to music, requiring soloists, chorus, and orchestra. A cantata like Carmina Burana also requires soloists, chorus and orchestra, but it's not a play and is essentially static onstage.

Incidentally, I've found that an excellent way to buy the CDs I've mentioned above is on, from the many "marketplace sellers" that sell used and discount-priced CDs listed there. I have no connection with (although I've written a number of reviews for them), but I've been buying my CDs there for the last two years, have been very pleased with the service, and have saved a lot of money. Definitely worth checking out.

Hope this offers some specific help. Happy listening!