Without a doubt, it's Puccini's Tosca. The popular masterpiece, which GP based on a play by the French writer Victorien Sardou, was premiered in 1900 and tells the story of Floria Tosca, an opera singer whose romance with a revolutionary painter comes to a bloody end when political upheaval and a fair bit of sadism get in the way. With both the music and action providing drama, passion, politics and violence, it has everything I need for a good night out at the opera...
For me, there's never a dull moment. I first fell in love with it when I was pretty small- my mother, who adores Pavarotti, used to play a lot of his records and I was always deeply moved by E lucevan le stelle- even before I had any clue about the plot. My first experience of the whole opera was on video (also Pavarotti) and I quickly became obsessed with seeing different productions. The 1993 Zubin Mehta conducted real-time version is a real favourite (Domingo is so heartbreaking as Cavaradossi) and I have, of course, watched the development of Bryn Terfel's Scarpia with interest.
It's hard to find a recording or dvd with the perfect combination of singers (Nicholas Lehnoff's Amsterdam production may have featured Bryn's role debut, but Catherine Malfitano looked old enough to be his mother and Richard Margison looked like... well, watch it for yourself and see) but the recent Royal Opera House two night extravaganza with Gheorghiu, Kaufmann and Terfel was a life changing experience for me. I wasn't previously a big fan of Ange, but her real-life similarity to Tosca makes her a good fit for the role and Bryn and Jonas were AMAZING. I doubt I'll ever witness a better Tosca in the flesh.
We don't have Bryn's Scarpia on record (yet) and it's hard to beat the combination of Maria Callas, Guiseppe di Stefano and Tito Gobbi. Act II is always my favourite part of the opera- I find the tussle between Tosca and Scarpia utterly compelling, and who doesn't sit on the edge of their seat waiting for Cavardossi's 'Vittoria, Vittoria!'? There isn't a full video recording of Callas as Tosca, but there's a grainy black and white Act II from Covent Garden in 1964 and it's an absolute must see.