Kiri Te Kanawa, Mirella Freni, Ben Heppner and more reminisce about their most cherished albums.

Simon Keenlyside


Verdi: Macbeth
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Antonio Pappano
OPUS ARTE OA1063D (2012)

“Choosing one of my own recordings is about as narcissistic as looking for white beard-hairs while shaving! But I do like some of the live theatre recordings. The quality of recorded sound is getting ever better, but, most importantly, live recordings give the arc of our performances back to the singers – dynamic, tempo, and direction! It’s so easy to forget the importance of pacing and drama when you’re in the studio. Lastly, the directors of these DVDs are, at last, making pieces of art in themselves. I like the Macbeth DVD from Covent Garden (Opus Arte OA1063D). The wind seemed to be in my vocal sails, and I had wonderful colleagues to work with.

“I have mixed feelings about studio recordings. It is an artform in itself, and I’m not so good at it. All the same, I also quite like my disc of Schumann’s Kerner Lieder with Graham Johnson (Helios CDH55011). 

Listen now: Schumann, Lust der Sturmnacht   



Joseph Calleja


Be My Love: A Tribute to Mario Lanza
BBC Concert Ochestra / Steven Mercurio 
DECCA 4783531

“I started my career thanks to Mario Lanza and was inspired by the movie The Great Caruso, so for me to be able to record a tribute to him is a dream come true. I started singing these pieces as a teenager and, in a way, they grew up with me. Italian art songs, regardless of the era in which they were written, are very taxing. The main influence on these composers was opera, so they wrote in a very operatic style. In fact, Mario del Monaco used to say Neapolitan songs are even more difficult than the arias! People think they are easy because they are sung badly by so many amateurs, but singing them beautifully is actually quite challenging.”

Listen now: Arrivederci Roma



Dame Kiri Te Kanawa

Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
Staatskapelle Dresden/Bernard Haitink
EMI CLASSICS 58618 (1991)


“There are many, many favourites but I find the one that has the most poignancy and that I love the most – not necessarily myself in it, but the opera in general – is Der Rosenkavalier. It is such a “teamwork” opera, and when it works it works magnificently! For this particular recording, we used the same bells as the original production in 1911. Singing the Marschallin is the journey of a lifetime. I think the role and the story can be transposed to your real life – coming from youth and thinking you’re mature but not being mature and then going into a part of your life when you actually achieve maturity. There is a deep sense that the person who wrote this music and words knew how a woman felt. Everything about it is so rewarding.”

Gerald Finley


Mozart: Don Giovanni  
London Classical Players and London Heinrich Schütz Choir/Sir Roger Norrington

“This one was made early in my career (1993) and was very exciting to take part in. I sang Masetto; I was considering whether to do Leporello but decided against it because I’d sworn I wouldn’t do Leporello before I’d done Giovanni. But Masetto was good enough and I think it’s important for a young singer to take measured steps. The other interesting thing about it was that it was one of the first Mozart recordings with authentic instruments. Roger Norrington took the overture at almost twice the normal speed and it’s still the most exciting overture of Don Giovanni I’ve ever heard.” 

Rinat Shaham


Fantasy in Blue 
Fuoco en Cenere Ensemble
ATMA CLASSIQUE 22253 (2001)

“My favourite is probably Fantasy in Blue (Atma Classique 22253), which I recorded with Fuoco en Cenere Ensemble, and which has music by Purcell and Gershwin. Recording this album was all about ensemble work and listening to each other; it’s very, very intimate. You would think: “Gershwin and Purcell in one disc? By a viola da gamba ensemble?” but it actually works really well! For me it’s always very important to find interesting projects. Yes, you can go and record commercially an entire opera or an album of well-known arias – this can be very rewarding – but what interests me most and represents me best is something that takes a different angle.”

Thomas Hampson


Mahler Des Knaben Wunderhorn 
Geoffrey Parsons 
TELDEC 174726 (1990)

The Mahler recordings I made with Leonard Bernstein for DG were very important to me, as were all of my collaborations with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, particularly my first Don Giovanni (Teldec 44184). But I have to start with my first solo recording, entitled Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Teldec 174726), featuring settings from this influential collection of poems by various composers. The folks at Teldec worried about a “concept” album like this from a young artist – where would they file it in the record store? But they went ahead with it and it won all kinds of recording prizes I had never heard of. It also opened the floodgates for me as a solo recording artist and initiated a whole series of historical and thematic references that went beyond the composers’ names and led me more deeply into the world of poetry.

Emma Matthews


Emma Matthews in Monte Carlo
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo/Brad Cohen
DG 4763555 (2010) 



“My favourite recorded moment is my soft singing in Ophelia’s Mad Scene (Thomas). “Pale et blonde dort sous l’eau profonde” – sustaining that line and spinning the phrase was like an endless thread in my head. I can’t believe the beauty of the phrase! I remember the stillness and silence in the auditorium, closing my eyes and feeling like I was just there near the water. Brad Cohen spun me through it with his graceful phrasing and smile. Another favourite is my recording of Lakmé (Opera Australia OPOZ56020DVD). The Bell Song was an amazing moment. The tightness between the pit and stage was so exact; I never felt alone once and I love the tempo that Maestro Joel-Hornak found for me. It’s a bloody hard sing – after those fiendish coloratura passages came the staccato finale bars and then the top E! It was all so thrilling to sing and so rewarding to record live.”

Rosario La Spina


Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo/Richard Mills 
ABC CLASSICS 4763483 (2009)

“I am very proud of the Neapolitan songs and one or two of the arias in this recording. My favourites are probably Ah sì, ben mio from Verdi’s Il Trovatore and d’Annibale’s song O paese d’o sole. The recording sessions were brutal – we were in the studio all day for four days. But it was an honour to be asked to do it even though it was also the most stressful thing I’ve ever done! The stakes are high in such an environment, but the experience was incredibly rewarding in the end. While this album is my proudest accomplishment to date, I probably enjoy listening more to Rusalka (Chandos CHAN 10449). Tackling the difficult role of the Prince, making a live recording of this great opera with an almost all-Australian cast and having its musical merit acknowledged in Gramophone gives me great satisfaction.”

Karita Mattila


German Romantic Arias
Staatskapelle Dresden/Sir Colin Davis
ERATO 0927421412 (2002)

“This is the one that comes to my mind immediately. I seldom listen to my own recordings, but in this recording there are numbers that I sometimes go back to: Beethoven’s Ah Perfido! as well as Abscheulicher! from Fidelio. Maybe because at the time I had done them on stage for the first time, I felt happy to get them documented. I remember the recording being a wonderful learning experience, like all the collaborations with this particular maestro. His music-making and commitment made me forget the boredom of the usual recording sessions in the studios – this one felt like a continuous live performance! Sir Colin belongs to the very small category of “Great Maestros” – with a big heart and a sense of complete respect for music and its interpretation.”

Erwin Schrott


“To be fair to the people who helped create my recordings, I’d prefer to pick my favourite piece from each. From my first album, Arias (Decca 4780473) I’d choose Elle ne m’aime pas from Verdi’s Don Carlos. For this recording I visualised King Philippe sitting on the royal bed at daybreak, his back turned to the Queen, thinking of all the things causing him so much pain. From Rojotango (Sony Classics 88697844742), my favourite South American song is Insensatez, which expresses that typical Latin warmth and passion – when we love, we die loving! From my most recent album, Arias (Sony Classics 88691971162), I’d choose the Te Deum from Tosca. I first saw the score of Tosca at age 15 and I’ve wanted to perform the bad guy ever since.” 

 Listen now: Arias – Bizet’s Votre toast  


Listen now: Arias

Mirella Freni 


Puccini: La Bohème 
La Scala Orchestra & Chorus / Herbert von Karajan
DG 476709 (1965) 

I have made many recordings but I never listen to them because I become self-critical and think, “Oh, I should’ve done it this way or that way instead.” However, I am very close to this Bohème because it was the first time I worked with Maestro Karajan, the start of a 20-year collaboration with him. I was 27 and to do this important production onstage at La Scala, which we then reproduced for this film, was a major highlight of my career. At the end of the first performance, when we were taking our curtain call, the Maestro was crying and embraced me. He said, “My dear Mirella, I’ve cried only twice in my life: when my mother died, and tonight for your Mimì.” I didn’t know what to say! Working with him was so special because we understood each other musically; he would say, “Mirella, I don’t understand why we are always together without speaking about it first.” This production became legendary – they still do it at La Scala today!

Ben Heppner



My Secret Heart
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Jonathan Tunick
RCA 63508 (1999)


“I find no joy in listening to my own discs, at least not for the first five or six years after the release. However, I recently downloaded a recording of mine entitled My Secret Heart – songs that approximate the music my mother might have listened to around the time of my birth. It is subtitled “Songs of the parlor, stage and silver screen”. I love this record because it’s such a departure from the serious music that is the mainstay of my repertoire. It reflects a sense of freedom and abandon not found in my other CDs.

Anne Sofie von Otter


Monteverdi · Handel · Telemann
Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble
PROPRIUS PRCD9008 (1983)



Weill: Speak Low
NDR-Sinfonie/John Eliot Gardiner 
DG 4779182 (2000)

“I’ve been involved in so many projects, and several have been major moments musicaux. My very first solo disc in 1983 with the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble, with arias by Monteverdi, Handel and Telemann (Proprius PRCD9008), where I served as my own conductor with pencil in hand substituting for a conductor’s baton and beating out tempos, was extremely satisfying. Another “first” was the Kurt Weill disc with John Eliot Gardiner on DG in the early ’90s (Speak Low; DG 4779182). Neither of us had done that kind of repertoire before. It proved to be such a happy recording: exciting, thrilling, sexy to be doing a kind of “crossover” album with the jazz elements and Weill´s fantastic turns and colours. The best recordings have been made in an almost trance-like mode, high on the music, the flow, and the collaboration with the musicians.”

Listen now: Weill, Bilbao Song


Yvonne Kenny


Simple Gifts
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Kamirski
ABC CLASSICS 445092 (1994)

“I have made many recordings I’m proud of throughout the years but Simple Gifts is the one that comes from my heart. The original idea came to me from my uncle Murray, who said, “Why don’t you make a recording of some of the things I like?” I realised that there was a whole audience out there who loved classical music but didn’t necessarily come to the opera. So I had the idea to make a compilation that included opera, folk tunes, and all types of classical music. My criteria was that it had to be a beautiful melody that I loved and would appeal to folk who weren’t devoted concert- or opera-goers. This was my first disc with the MSO and with ABC Classics, who were in their infancy at the time. We had a great success with it (the album went gold) and it paved the way for ABC Classics to have the confidence to use local artists and to realise that there was a market for them.”

Anthony Dean Griffey


Britten: Peter Grimes 
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus / Donald Runnicles
EMI 17414 (2008)


“I really have a special love for live performance recordings. They’re usually flawed, but there’s a beauty in imperfection. I consider this performance to be all-encompassing moment of my career and life. That day of the performance I was 110% ready to tell the story. I wasn’t thinking about singing for the cameras or the microphones; I was just thinking about communicating and that’s what opera is all about. During this performance, especially in the mad scene at the end, I felt a connection with the audience that they were on this journey with me. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.”

Susan Graham


Hahn: La Belle Époque
Roger Vignoles 
SONY 60168 (1998)



Gluck: Il Tenero Momento 
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Harry Bicket 
Erato 85768 (2001) 


“It’s almost like asking a mother which of her children is her favourite! The Hahn was such a discovery, with which I fell madly in love, carrying the music around the world with me for months, just for fun, to play and sing to unwind from bombastic opera rehearsals. The Mozart/Gluck was another kind of labour of love; it was daunting because the repertoire is so well known and everybody has recorded it. I was daunted by the virtuosity of the aria Amour viens rendre à mon âme, but it turned out OK! Ultimately, I love the music so much and feel a unique personal connection to it. I hope it lives up to my deep feelings for it.”