The CD of the complete operas of Rachmaninov is actually quite nice. Of course, you would have to want to listen to vocal music by Rachmaninov. My favorite music in this category is the Vespers for a capella choir which I have commented on before. If you have not heard this, make a point of finding out about it.
There isn’t a huge demand for short operas, though there seem to be quite a lot of them around. Stylistically the Vespers is ethnic Russian. These operas are very much in the European post-Romantic idiom, especially Francesca da Rimini which includes an extremely assertive humming chorus. Humming choruses are the fault of Debussy, I believe, and were in vogue for only a short time around the turn of the twentieth century.
[BB -- post script -- I suddenly recalled humming chorus in Rigoletto. Maybe it's all Verdi's fault.]
Rachmaninov’s Francesca is seen from the point of view of Dante who sees the afterlife as a freezing of a moment in the person’s actual life. Francesca and Paolo were killed in the act of ecstasy and are condemned to live that moment forever. I always feel that if this is God’s judgment, then he is mistaken. Why isn’t Lanceotto the one rotting forever in hell, since it is he who committed deception and double murder? I always feel that God made us to love and will forgive this first.
The recording is Deutsche Grammophon with Neeme Jaervi. The singing, all in Russian, is excellent: Maria Guleghina, Anne Sofie von Otter, Sergei Leiferkus and Sergei Larin, among others.
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