San Francisco Opera | Opera is ON Blog

Let Opera Librarian Michael Bragg Guide You Through His Favorite Tunes

When San Francisco Opera approached its opera librarian, tenor Michael Bragg, to put together a Spotify playlist of all his favorite tunes, he came back with a marvel: a curated playlist featuring the stars of our 2020-21 season, with in-depth explanations about why each track shines.

So slap some headphones on, cue up the music, and read on to hear what makes our opera librarian so jazzed about each song.

Prelude – Das Rheingold – Wagner
Artist: Sir Mark Elder, conductor, appearing in San Francisco Opera’s Rigoletto 

The first time I listened to Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, a cycle of four epic music dramas, I was in graduate school. As the Prelude to Rheingold, the first opera, began, I remember the feeling of excitement sweeping over me, and I knew right then and there that I would be a lover of Wagner and his music forever. Maestro Elder conducting the Prelude here has conjured up that same excitement. I think it’s time to listen to the entire cycle… again!

Albina Shagimuratova in The Magic Flute

Der Hölle Rache Kocht in meinem Herzen – The Magic Flute – Mozart
Artist: Albina Shagimuratova, soprano, appearing in San Francisco Opera’s Opening Night Celebration

The vocal athleticism of this aria still leaves me wondering, “How do sopranos do it?” Albina Shagimuratova gives you all the drama and Mozartian finesse that the aria demands. You will likely listen to her sing this aria more than a few times. I know I sure have.

Hoho! Hoho! Hohei! Schmiede, mein Hammer, ein hart… – Siegfried – Wagner
Artist: Simon O’Neill, tenor, appearing in San Francisco Opera’s Fidelio

I hung up my ol’ vocal cords a long time ago, but as a tenor I would come out of retirement, if only for one day, to sing this aria, especially if I got to perform it with San Francisco Opera’s incredible orchestra. This is one of my favorite arias by Wagner, and once you hear Simon O’Neill sing it, you will immediately understand why he is sought by opera houses around the world.

Il Grand Inquisitor – Don Carlo – Verdi
Artist: Ferruccio Furlanetto, bass, appearing in San Francisco Opera’s Così fan tutte

Do you remember a performance that had you on the edge of your seat, not breathing? I do. Picture it: It’s 2005 at the Metropolitan Opera, and I’m sitting in the second-to-last row of the 3,800-capacity theater. The Act III duet between Philip II and the Grand Inquisitor begins. From the moment the trumpets rang announcing the Grand Inquisitor’s entrance to the last phrase uttered by Philip II, I didn’t breathe. I was on the edge of my seat, almost to the point of falling off, for a full ten minutes. I dare you to listen to Ferruccio Furlanetto in this scene and not do the same!

Prelude – I Masnadieri – Verdi
Artist: Nicola Luisotti, conductor, appearing in San Francisco Opera’s La Bohème

The Prelude to Giuseppe Verdi’s lesser performed opera I Masnadieri is a perfect example of the power of his music. From the moment it begins, you know you’re embarking on an emotional journey, starting with the first chord: A rolling timpani erupts, followed by the melancholic cello solo. Maestro Luisotti conducts with such passion and vigor you forget no one is singing!

Trionfo, trionfo! Colpito ho nel segno…Tremate, o miseri – Verdi
Artist: Artur Ruciński,baritone, appearing in San Francisco Opera’s La Bohème 

Artur Ruciński is the kind of artist you root for no matter who he is portraying. I’ve found myself cheering him on in roles like Germont in La Traviata and Riccardo in Bellini’s I Puritani, both willful, complicated characters. His Francesco in Verdi’s I Masnadieri — heard here — is a brother who has plans to usurp his brother’s rightful place as heir to the family’s estates and titles. In this aria, Francesco delights in the news that his scheme against his brother is going according to plan. Sometimes it’s fun to like the bad guy!

E ben altro il mio sogno! – Il Tabarro – Puccini
Artist: Elza van den Heever, soprano, appearing in San Francisco Opera’s Fidelio

Some of my favorite operas are complete in only one act. In Giacomo Puccini’s beautifully tragic one-act opera Il Tabarro, Giorgetta expresses her longing to return to Paris and the magical feeling of what it’s like to live there. Soprano Elza van den Heever sings poignantly about the desire to return to the life she left behind.

Dove mai trover qual ciglio? – Lo Sposo deluso – Mozart 
Artist: John Chest, baritone, appearing in San Francisco Opera’s Così fan tutte

Only 20 minutes have survived from Mozart’s unfinished opera Lo Sposo deluso (The Deluded Bridegroom). The character Pulcherio praises Eugenia, the beautiful woman who is betrothed to his friend Bocconnio Papparelli, in the hope of winning her over. Fun fact: The singer Francesco Bussani, whom Mozart intended for role of Pulcherio, was the original Don Bartolo in Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). Here is a taste of baritone John Chest’s beautiful singing and what you can look forward to hearing this fall in our new production of Così fan tutte.

Inosservato penetrava… Angelo casto e bel – Le Duc d’Albe – Donizetti
Artist: Arturo Chacón-Cruz, tenor, appearing in San Francisco Opera’s La Bohème

Once you hear this gem of an aria from Donizetti’s rarely performed opera Le Duc d’Albe (The Duke of Alba), you will find yourself falling down the proverbial Spotify rabbit hole to find as many tenors as you can singing this heart-wrenching aria. Arturo Chacón-Cruz beautifully portrays Marcello, a man who is torn between his father and the woman he loves. 

Ah dov’è, dov’è il cimento? – Semiramide – Rossini
Artist: Lawrence Brownlee, tenor, appearing in San Francisco Opera’s The Barber of Seville

Lawrence Brownlee has been a favorite performer of mine since I saw him in Opera Philadelphia’s production of La Cenerentola during its 2009-10 season. I am extremely excited that he is coming back to San Francisco Opera next season after his incredible 2016 Company debut as Ernesto in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Here is Brownlee performing one of my favorite arias from Rossini’s opera Semiramide and singing with such clarity, ease and charm that you will fall in love both with him and the opera! 

Dva mira - plotskiy I dukhovnïy – Iolanta – Tchaikovsky
Artist: Lucas Meachem, baritone, appearing in San Francisco Opera’s The Barber of Seville 

The message of this aria is this: In order to change, one must believe in and desire deeply whatever change they wish to see. This aria holds so much significance for me in this time of crisis because I truly believe that we, as humans, desire and believe deeply in changing our situation for the betterment of the world. There’s a phrase, “Once you start you just can’t stop.” Once you listen to baritone Lucas Meachem perform this aria, you won’t be able to stop. I guarantee it!


SOL3 MIO, Pene Pati center
‘O Sole Mio – Neapolitan song – E. Di Capua
Artist: SOL3 MIO’s Pene Pati, tenor, appearing in San Francisco Opera’s Rigoletto 

This famous Neapolitan song has been performed by everybody from Elvis to Pavarotti to musician and theremin player Katica Illényi. Here, the dynamic trio SOL3 MIO from New Zealand performs a rousing rendition of this classic song that will leave you tapping your toes and smiling from ear to ear!


Michael Bragg is San Francisco Opera’s music planning associate and opera librarian and can be seen around the Bay Area giving talks about opera and classical music. A professional tenor, Bragg appeared with companies including San Francisco Opera, LA Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Seattle Opera and more.

A Page from the Past, Informing the Present
The Glory of Being the Middle Dog