- Dido and Aeneas, opera, Z. 626
One of Britain's greatest singers made her operatic debut on LP with this 1961 recording of one of her nation's greatest operas. Dame Janet Baker's interpretation of the role of Dido in Henry Purcell's masterpiece is legendary. The darker qualities of her rich mezzo voice bring out the sorrowful aspects of this role, which is sung more often by sopranos. Baker's entire performance builds to Dido's final lament ("When I Am Laid in Earth"), which she sings with a rare nobility that poignantly captures the dignity and grief of the abandoned queen. The other performers don't disappoint either -- the Witches' scene in Act II is a wicked delight, sung with all due malice and grotesquerie. Anthony Lewis leads the English Chamber Orchestra in a well-paced performance that drives this concise opera inexorably to its tragic end.