Opera isn’t so different from film and television in its glut of streaming platforms — which can be just as challenging, and expensive, to navigate.
Established entities like Medici.tv and Met Opera’s On Demand run on subscription models. Deutsche Grammophon’s Stage+ works similarly, and is the only platform for streaming the most recent staging of Wagner’s “Ring” from his home court at the Bayreuth Festival. Building your own digital library of opera on video is more frustrating. The Met, for example, only allows nonsubscribers to rent, but not purchase, individual productions for $4.99.
Enter the Naxos label, which has been smartly acquiring the rights to a wide variety of opera productions in recent years and releasing video recordings on DVD and Blu-ray. And now that catalog, which includes shows from Europe’s major houses, is beginning to emerge for digital purchase ($19.99) and rental ($5.99) on Amazon Prime Video. Here are five of Naxos’s best offerings.
‘Tosca’ (Dutch National Opera, 2022)
Barrie Kosky is one of the most sought-after directors on the international circuit. He’s made his name with comedic and serious rarities alike, but this recent take on Puccini’s bloody shocker shows that his punchy style can work well with the classics, too.
There is a notable lack of scenic decoration during the first act’s machinations and romances; we don’t even see what the painter Cavaradossi is working on. But Kosky caps the act with an imagistic coup — and it’s as potent a portrait of Scarpia’s villainy as you’ll find anywhere. Urgently conducted by Lorenzo Viotti and well sung by a youthful cast, Puccini’s thriller here moves with a swiftness that anticipates the slasher flick. And it comes in under two hours.
‘Atys’ (Opéra Comique, 2011)
Now for something luxurious from the French Baroque. The mythological story told here, with a score by Jean-Baptiste Lully, so entranced Louis XIV that his affection became synonymous with the music. Then the work largely dropped into obscurity, until a 1980s production at the Comique put it back on the map. And in 2011, when a wealthy philanthropist paid for an international touring revival of this sturdy staging, high-definition cameras were ready.
The conductor William Christie and his ensemble, Les Arts Florissants, perform the score with a courtly edge that enhances the power (and vengefulness) of Stéphanie d’Oustrac’s take on the goddess Cybèle. And Christie’s players likewise lend a glow to the lovestruck (or mad) exultations present in Bernard Richter’s portrayal of the title character.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s operas have generally struggled to catch on in the repertory, even after getting a quick start during the composer’s starry, youthful ascent in the 1920s. But in recent years, we’ve been gifted with sumptuous recordings of the composer’s lush music dramas — including Simon Stone’s production of “Die Tote Stadt” (documented on a Blu-ray from the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, but not yet streaming).
“Das Wunder der Heliane” is even better than Korngold’s rightly famous film scores that followed his move the United States and went on to influence the likes of John Williams. This recording is nearly three hours of orchestral delirium, thanks to the work of the Deutche Oper’s orchestra, under Marc Albrecht. Also no slouch: the American soprano Sara Jakubiak, who proves blazing in the title role. The staging is spare, but the music and acting crackle.
‘Mathis der Maler’ (Theater an der Wien, 2012)
First came Paul Hindemith’s “Mathis der Maler” Symphony — a nearly half-hour work that drew the ire of Third Reich, and the defense of Wilhelm Furtwängler. Then came the full opera, which premiered in Switzerland in 1938. The stage show winningly incorporates the music of the symphony throughout, but has never dislodged the concert piece in the repertoire, in part because of the prohibitive cost of staging a three-hour opera about the role of art in wartime.
In Hindemith’s libretto, the title painter has to choose whether to engage in the 16th-century’s “Peasant’s War.” The seriousness of the subject matter may seem forbidding, but the imagination of Hindemith’s sonic language — dissonant at times, but always rapturous and conceived with care — is so riveting, it actually sells the philosophical material. A straightforward but memorable staging by Keith Warner is likely the only chance many will have to see this work, so its inclusion in Naxos’s catalog is a cause for celebration.
Now how about an immersion in Weimar operetta? Here, you can take in the last operetta to open during the Weimar Republic, which premiered in January 1933, soon before Nazis did their best to erase a theatrical tradition that was Jewish, gender-fluid and influenced by Black American music of the period.
Once again, Barrie Kosky is the director. This was hardly the best operetta production during his long and celebrated decade of leadership at the Komische Oper. It’s not even the best show by Jaromir Weinberger that the theater has put on. (That would be “Schwanda the Bagpiper,” as directed by Andreas Homoki in 2022.)
But “Frühlingsstürme” remains a valuable document of Kosky’s efforts to revive Weimar-era works. His playful staging brings a snazzy panache to the comic reversals of fortune and mistaken-identity gambits. You can listen to excerpts that a star singer like Jonas Kaufmann is keen to include in a show-tunes sampler, but the entire show has a fizzy intoxication that excerpts can’t match.