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Puccini: Madama Butterfly / Karajan, Domingo, Freni, Ludwig

Puccini / Freni / Domingo / Vpo / Von Karajan
Release Date: 06/14/2005 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 000428209  
Composer:  Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Elke ScharyGiorgio StendoroMarius RintzlerMichel Sénéchal,   ... 
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The film was created in Berlin in 1974 to a playback of Karajan’s recording of the opera earlier that year. For Madame Butterfly, director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle has adopted his most cinematic approach, using flash-backs, dream-sequences and having the characters “think” certain lines instead of singing them. Using all these tricks combined with a deep understanding for the struggles of the opera’s sad heroine, Ponnelle’s Butterfly is a thoughtful, genuine portrait of a woman lost between rival cultural worlds. Mirella Freni gives the performance of her life in the title role, bringing “poetic value… to every considered word, phrase and gesture”, as the New York Times wrote. With Plácido Domingo and Christa Ludwig in the supporting Read more roles, as well as Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, this DVD is a visual and musical delight.

STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: DTS 5.1
Subtitles: German/English/French/Italian/Spanish/Chinese
A production of UNITEL, Munich

R E V I E W S

Fanfare
Unitel’s catalog seems to have passed into the DGG orbit, with Mirella Freni’s portrayal of Madama Butterfly among the highlights. The work was recorded in early 1974, with Luciano Pavarotti for audio only, replaced by Plácido Domingo for the film made towards the end of that same year. (Did they alternate in the recording studio?) Herbert von Karajan’s command of the score has always been highly regarded, but I may not be alone in thinking that it is too slow and drawn out. Ponnelle’s traditional designs and staging were recreated in a Berlin studio and are a welcome change from the alternative readings I have seen in recent years, though some of his camera work is irritating (also the case in Il barbiere di Siviglia from about the same time). What may turn prospective viewers away is the fact that the film was lip-synched to the sound track, which can be most distracting. Freni never sang the role on stage—although she did undertake such equally heavy roles as Aida or Elisabetta—but her grasp of the character is wondrous; occasionally her expression seems blank at moments when we hear her voice expressing her thoughts. Christa Ludwig enters into the character of Suzuki, a role she would never have taken on stage, except perhaps at the start of her career—though I would question Ponnelle’s approach to the final tragedy in which she hands the knife to Butterfly. Domingo is the engaging bounder, while Robert Kerns is equally photogenic as a sympathetic Sharpless. The Vienna Philharmonic’s plush sound matches the conductor’s approach.

Joel Kasow, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Elke Schary (Soprano), Giorgio Stendoro (Baritone), Marius Rintzler (Bass),
Michel Sénéchal (Tenor), Christa Ludwig (Mezzo Soprano), Robert Kerns (Baritone),
Mirella Freni (Soprano), Placido Domingo (Tenor)
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1904; Italy 
Date of Recording: 1974 

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