Opera What is the best opera recording?

I know how hard it will be to narrow down to one single recording, but that's what I'm looking for. I have no opera recordings what so ever, so your advise will either leave me wanting more of leave me out in the cold. What advise would you give with such pressure?
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Would you like to narrow it down to a particular opera or at least a composer??? There are approximately 11,000 operas by 1800 composers. There are about 30 mainstream composers that have been extensively recorded.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Fromental HALÉVY
Vincenzo BELLINI
Georges BIZET
Arrigo BOÏTO
Gioachino ROSSINI
Francesco CILEA
Giuseppe VERDI
Richard WAGNER
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Carl Maria von WEBER
Charles GOUNOD

I'll post some of the most popular operas later tonight.

You ask the impossible. Get in line and buy a ticket at the Met for the new production of Les Troyens next Spring. Of course, Don Giovanni was the opera that first destroyed me, and then there is Verdi's Otello. And what about Meistersinger? But you want one recording to turn you on or off to the only music worth listening to when we have such a short time on this earth? It can't be done. If it is truly your desire to learn to love this incredible expression of all that is human, buy one, any one, listen to it as background music for three months, listen to it carefully for two weekends. Then stop. Then go see a live performance. You won't be disappointed no matter what recording you selected, and I guarantee you that you will begin to understand the true limitations of your system.

If you are really serious, e-mail me and I give you several selections worth owning. Let me know if you want records or cds.
I only have a couple of opera recordings myself, one of which is John Rutter Requiem - by Reference Recordings. It has got a pipe organ that will knock your socks off!!! Check it out at www.referencerecordings.com . I also recommend another cd called "Pomp and Pipes". It too has an AWESOME pipe organ in a track titled "The Vikings".
Also, please note that Requiem is a disc used as a reference tool by many reviewers, and it is HDCD.
The previous posts are absolutely correct -- choosing one opera is a tough challenge. Rather than tackle an entire opera, you might want to start with highlights from some of the best known operas.

My mother was a music major in college, with a concentration in voice, and she sang in some small, local opera productions between 1947 and 1955. The first opera highlights she played for me was Puccini's "La Boheme". It's still one of my favorites, due to its lovely melodies and lyricism -- true "bel canto" opera. There are several excellent recordings of "La Boheme", but I still tend to prefer the version with Mirella Freni and Nicolai Gedda. It may not be the absolute best version ever done, but it's a very comfortable old friend.
Tosca by Puccini with Frene, Ramey and Domingo on DG conducted by Sinopoli and Die Zauberflote by Mozart with Fisher-Deiskau conducted by Solti on London are 2 pretty good discs( the LP of Tosca is superior) with good-very good sound and excellent performances. If you're just starting out, you may find Wagner ponderous, maybe even if you aren't starting out :-) Personally, I like the Germans, but I love the Italians. Any Verdi or Puccini are great starting places. IMHO.
If you are looking for a little adventure with opera, I suggest actually a DVD of the movie "Fitzcarraldo" by Werner Herzog, starring Klaus Kinski and featuring a soundtrack of music composed by German moog pioneer Popol Vuh (Florian Fricke), and classic opera excerpts from some of the people already listed above (Puccini, Verdi, Leoncavallo, Massenet, Bellini). The movie is stunning visually, and aurally. Herzog has an unmatched aptitude for delivering images and scenes of immesurable clarity, often decoupled from the normal portrayal or sense of time passing. The plot of the story, of course, has a central theme involving opera. You won't be disappointed.
The Ring Cycle; Weiner Philharmoniker, cond. Solti either on original vinyl or the latest CD remaster on DECCA. Great performances by the classic artists, great sound. Stereophile reviewed this CD several years ago - it might be in their archives online.
I'll try to stick the most popular ones......Some are available in both full version and highlights versions.

Bizet's "Carmen"..Callas, Gedda; Paris Opera/Pretre...or:
Johnson, Domingo; Concert version..Radio France/Maazel.

Mozart's "Magic Flute"..Gedda, Popp, Philharmonia/Klemperer..or:
Schreier, Moser; Bavarian State Opera/Sawallisch

Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro"..Ramey, Te Kanawa, Popp, Von Stade; London Philharmonic/Solti

Mozart's "Don Giovanni"..Battle, Ramey, etal; Berlin/Von Karajan

Puccini's "La Boheme"..Freni, Pavarotti; Berlin/Von Karajan

Verdi's "Aida"..Freni, Carreras; Vienna State Opera/Von Karajan

Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess"..White, Haymon; London Philharmonic/Simon Rattle

Available as a set, because both operas are short and usually performed together are Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" and Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci"....Pavarotti, etal; National Philharmonic/Giuseppe Patane;
In Rusticana you will notice that the music at the midpoint was used as the theme music in the movie "Raging Bull".

You may also look for Verdi Highlights with samples of the Operas "Aida", "Otello", "Rigoletto", and "La Traviata", "Il Trovatore" and more. There is a good one on Polygram; catalog number 469217

I am no opera expert, but a Requiem is not an opera. It is a mass for the dead. The Rutter Requiem on Reference is an excellent recording, but it isn't an opera.
I'm not an opera buff but do enjoy it from time to time. Happened across this list of "Reference Recordings" - don't know if it helps, or simply stirs new debate:


Happy listening.
FYI: Grandpad's link reference list is of vintage LPs, so most/many not available on CD.
Turandot is possibly Puccini's grandest opera. I've heard several. But the recording that brings Turandot to a powerful intensity is the 1959 recording with Erich Leinsdorf conducting the Rome Opera Orchestra and Chorus, along with Nilsson, Tebaldi, Tozzi, and the legendary Jussi Bjoerling in the part of Calaf. The entire line up is superb! This recording is very moving, moves the emotions. I don't have a very big opera collection, i'll post a few more later.
Everyone is correct in the difficulty of picking just one---HOWEVER I am amazed that no one mentioned La Boheme with Jussi Bjorling and Victoria de Los Angeles conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham----clearly the best ever La Boheme and arguably the greatest operatic recording of all time.

Buy it and enjoy forever!
Yashu: The Bjorling and the Pavarotti I mentioned are easily the two best sellers. The Parvarotti being newer has better sound which matters to some. No reason why an opera fan should not own both!!