From London Records and Pavarotti the joy of opera

November 13, 1994|By McClatchy News Service

Although opera's popularity has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years, some people still remain a bit reluctant to embrace it.

They may have heard "Che fai? . . . nulla" (from "La Traviata") in the movie "Pretty Woman" or "La mamma morta" (from "Andrea Chenier") in "Philadelphia" -- Hollywood makes use of opera frequently nowadays -- and decided it should have a place in their lives. They'd like to buy a few recordings but have no idea where to start.

Now, as a result of the teaming of London Records and Luciano Pavarotti on a project called "Pavarotti's Opera Made Easy," there is a place. In fact, there are 20 places -- each an album, available in both CD and cassette formats.

With titles such as "My Favorite Opera for Children," "My Favorite Heroines" and even "My Favorite Opera in the Movies," they present various aspects of the art form in palatable, easy-to-digest doses, featuring many of the greatest voices of our time, all selections personally made by Mr. Pavarotti.

Three albums feature music of particular composers (Mozart, Puccini and Verdi); six highlight music from particular operas ("Aida," "La Boheme," "La Traviata," "Madame Butterfly," "Rigoletto" and "Tosca"), and 11 are themed to various subjects (such as children, love songs, finales).

"Opera is truly the greatest show imaginable -- you only have to listen to the music to experience its powerful drama and passion," Mr. Pavarotti writes in a personal note included in each album.

Historically, marketing opera recordings to those less than fanatically devoted to the art has been difficult. With most operas running three or more hours, complete recordings are hard to sell to people used to three-minute-long pop tunes or even 20-minute-long classical instrumentals.

And even if people can spare the time, the cost of a complete opera album -- often $40 or more -- may be a greater deterrent.

The "Opera Made Easy" albums answer both objections.

Each runs about 75 minutes. That's a generous amount of music, but these recordings break down opera into bite-size tracks -- average running time four minutes and 34 seconds.

As for the cost, they're in the mid-price range. They're inexpensive because they did not require new recordings; selections were culled from London's extensive opera catalog.

Are there any negatives? Very few, really.

One is the repetition: Some mega-hit selections appear on several of the recordings. Another is the heavy emphasis on Italian opera. (But then, this is Pavarotti's project -- and he is Italian.)

But the music on virtually every cut provides a reward by itself and notes will heighten enjoyment considerably -- and make one an instant opera authority.

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