Classicalite's Five Best: Luciano Pavarotti Recordings

By James Inverne on Sep 03, 2013 04:30 PM EDT

As Decca runs a record-your-own-"Dorma" to mark 50 years since the start of Luciano Pavarotti's international career, Classicalite reflects on his bulging catalog of (mostly) great recordings.

From the many, we have picked five of the best.

Not that you need any excuse to enjoy some Pav, but if you want to join in the celebrations of his half-century, as it were, you could do worse than to invest in these...

Mozart's Idomeneo, cond. Sir John Pritchard (Glydebourne)

An historic gem from the still new Glyndebourne label. Pavarotti's U.K. opera debut was at the Sussex-based festival, and fascinatingly, this live performance enshrines him singing Mozart. He was to shy away from that composer for most of the rest of his career, but here, aged 29, his voice still has the mellifluousness to really grace those long Mozartian lines. The rest of the cast is top-notch--Richard Lewis, Gundula Janowitz, et al.--and Pritchard is as ever a fabulous Mozart conductor.

Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, cond. Bruno Bartoletti (Decca)

Pavarotti's greatest role, perhaps, was as the blindly cheerful Riccardo in Verdi's Ballo. And here he gives a reading filled with his life force in full, irresistible sway. Only Carlo Bergonzi matches this interpretation on disc, and Pavarotti's surrounding cast is as good as that rival set's--here he has Sherrill Milnes and Renata Tebaldi.

Verdi's Rigoletto, cond. Richard Bonynge (Decca)

Or maybe the Duke in Rigoletto was his finest! He recorded it a clutch of times, but he was best for Richard Bonynge and Decca. Even if he misses the character's ruthlessness, there is simply no arguing with this duke's self-satisfaction. Nor with his immaculate phrasing. The only minus point is that Sherrill Milnes in the title role and Joan Sutherland's Gilda are a tad superficial. But it's all terrifically exciting for all that.

Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment, cond. Richard Bonynge (Decca)

In some ways the defining Pavarotti recording, the so-called "King of the High Cs" earned that nickname with his Covent Garden performance of Donizetti's Tonio, and his death-defying aria in which nine (count 'em) high Cs are called for. Pavarotti delivers with room to spare here, but his performance is about far more than that. The amiable hero could have been made for him, and it's rare to hear such rich tone in Donizetti (which tends to attract more lithe but also thinner voices). Sutherland also gives a classic account.

Puccini's La Bohème, cond. Herbert von Karajan (Decca)

In the Pavarotti-Puccini stakes, it's a toss-up between this or the magnificent Zubin Mehta conducted Turandot. If you want his "Nessun Dorma" you'll go for the latter, but it's his Rodolfo that delivers a detail of expression that he probably never equalled on disc. With Karajan and Mirella Freni both on top form, and everyone treating this as a masterpiece to be freshly minted rather than performed for the umpteenth time, many regard this as the finest Bohème ever recorded.

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TagsClassicalite's Five Best, Pavarotti, Decca, Nessun Dorma, Turandot, Puccini, Mozart, Idomeneo, Glyndebourne, Verdi, Un ballo in maschera, Rigoletto, La Boheme

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