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Essential Puccini


Release Date: 02/15/2011 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 07139   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Alfredo KrausNicolai GeddaMirella FreniRoberto Alagna,   ... 
Conductor:  James LevineThomas SchippersAntonio PappanoAnton Guadagno,   ... 
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 32 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

A pretty typical selection of arias and ensembles made interesting by off-the-beaten-track choices including singers not famous in Puccini. Overall very satisfying.

This compilation is interesting and takes us on an imaginative journey through EMI's back catalogue.

The selections are generally well chosen in terms of capturing the special atmosphere of each opera. I was impressed at the way that Puccini managed to create quite distinct sound 'worlds' for the different dramas while maintaining a high standard throughout. It is a little odd that Angela Gheorghiu's 'O mio babbino caro' is on CD1 while other extracts from Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica are on CD2 (nothing from Il
Read more Tabarro). Most of the content is broken up with the arias/ensembles appearing in the sequence they appear in the score - La Bohème CD1 Tracks 1-7, Tosca CD2 Tracks 1-5 and so on.

With any compilation disc from archives, there can be debate regarding the choice of artists. This album is interesting as the choices are often off the critical ‘beaten track’. If one were to single out a performance of La Bohème on EMI one might have thought the Bjorling/De Los Angeles/Thomas Beecham performance or the starry Di Stefano/Callas/Panerai recording with Antonio Votto. In fact this album avoids these altogether and heads for a combination of complete sets and recitals which cover the whole range from the 1960s (Schippers) through to Gelmetti (mid-1990s). The results are actually rather lovely - certainly justifying their inclusion in most instances. He smooth tones of Alfredo Kraus are rather unusual in Bohéme where beefy tenors reign supreme but the performance is full of character and well vocalized. His duet later with Sherrill Milnes is not the most idiomatic imaginable but the artists distinguish themselves as having something to say in this repertoire. Mirella Freni is a model of charm and beautiful tone in the Schippers recording - even better I think than ten years later with Pavarotti. The selections here manage to sidestep some of the weaker contributions on the complete sets such as Renata Scotto a little past her prime and Nicolai Gedda who was not best suited to the role of Rodolfo. Roberto Alagna and Leontina Vaduva are vivid and well matched - Alagna shows that the more lyrical repertoire suited him like a glove at this stage of his career - try his other contribution at Track 11 on CD2. With Ghena Dimitrova there is again an unidiomatic quality which is not really helped by her voice sounding about three times too big for the role of Musetta - Anna Moffo with Callas/Di Stefano would be my pick here.

Dimitrova is far better, however, in the second CD extracts where her strong tones really astonish in 'Sola perduta abbandonata'. Her Turandot is not bad at all and probably preferable to Caballé and Callas on EMI but not to Birgit Nilsson. Nilsson is heard to advantage in the duet from Fanciulla del West. Daniella Dessi sounds more comfortable here than as Elisabetta in Don Carlos or her later Pagliacci with Pavarotti and Muti (both EMI). She sounds good in the recent I Medici on DG with Placido Domingo - 15 years earlier they had difficulty in recording her voice without making it sound pretty acidic on the high notes and lacking in body for Verdi. Perhaps the voice has changed also? Giuseppe Sabbatini is really very good in this ensemble - it seems a shame that he, along with so many other tenors, was somewhat eclipsed in the late 1980s, early 1990s by the pre-eminence of Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti. He lacks a little of their charm but is preferable to many tenors in this repertoire.

Gheorghiu is pretty much ideal as Laretta in Gianni Schicchi recorded in close-up. Birgit Nilsson steals the show as Minnie - on the complete record she pretty much sings the baritone and tenor into the middle of next week. Here she sounds her confident best. Charles Craig is able and has strong high notes - not quite a match for Mario Del Monaco but certainly game and very sensitive to the emotions of the piece. The selections from Madama Butterfly with Victoria de Los Angeles and Jussi Björling do not quite break new standards but that is not helped by the tracks used here - Jussi Björling really hits his stride in the section 'Bimba dagli occhi' here sung by Lenora Lafayette and Richard Lewis. I had not heard this coupling before with John Barbirolli and I welcome the chance to hear this over the better-known version with Carlo Bergonzi and Renata Scotto.

Richard Lewis was a Mozart tenor famous in Idomeneo. His closest match on record is Nicolai Gedda who is similarly lyrical at the beginning of this duet. Gedda's Italian is better but Lewis actually develops the character throughout the duet. He trumps Gedda's performance. Lewis in fact provides virile excitement as the duet progresses and his voice is well matched with Lenora Lafayette who on this basis - a blistering Manon Lescaut duet is Track 8 on CD2 – is certainly the equal of many fine sopranos on record. Her voice sounds a decent size with similarities to Antonietta Stella and occasionally Leontyne Price. I prefer her sound to that of Scotto on the Barbirolli complete set.

Placido Domingo opens CD2 with a quite brilliant 'Recondita Armonia'. That record is from his 'Roman Heroes' album which I think is among his finest achievements. The thrill of his voice is extraordinary. The next selection is from the Maria Callas stereo remake of Tosca recorded eleven years or so after the classic set conducted by De Sabata. It has not been transferred very satisfactorily to CD - I have LPs which do not make the voices sound so strident – the engineers may have boosted Callas's voice at the time which just highlights the flaws. Her voice shows signs of significant wear and tear but I have always liked this performance for all the detail she brings out. Her first act is shrill but the result is pretty electric all the same. This duet shows off Bergonzi's admirable Cavaradossi - his phrasing is really sweet. If Gobbi does not quite match his earlier achievement - his tone is less vivid - the results are still excellent.

Gheorghiu sounds as if she is almost impersonating Callas in 'Vissi d'arte' - albeit with a softer and more beautiful voice. The result is pretty good if recorded a touch close-up. Franco Corelli's 'E lucevan le stelle' is fine without matching his marvelous and completely over-the-top live performances - especially at Parma.

Gedda seems an unlikely Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut but then again he has enough voice for the part. Ruth Ann Swenson sounds confident and beautiful even if she cannot quite equal the efforts of Montserrat Caballé. She is more like Te Kanawa in the role of Manon but with a deal more excitement - very good and rather unexpected given the supposed dearth of fine modern sopranos in this repertoire. If she pales somewhat in comparison with Montserrat Caballé as Liu (Swenson sings 'Signore Ascolta' (Track 14) and Caballé in 'Tu che di gel sei cinta' (Track 17)) she belongs to a distinguished company as Caballé really seems pretty much ideal in the role. Speaking of Te Kanawa she is lovely in 'Senza mamma'. Corelli nearly takes off in 'Non piangere Liu' and is stupendous throughout that complete recording - a highlight in the catalogue. Finally we have a powerful conclusion in Jose Carreras's vibrant - recorded during his absolute prime in the mid/late 1970s - 'Nessun Dorma' which suffers only a little from plodding conducting.

This is really quite interesting as far as compilation discs go. I am not sure it’s a match for some of Decca's compilations. They really seem to have a knack for it. Decca showcase singers who were more famous and perhaps more at home in the Puccini roles: Tebaldi, Pavarotti, Sutherland, Del Monaco, Di Stefano. Even so, the results are satisfyingly dramatic and I can say that even though I have a lot of CDs I was surprised and delighted with the selections here and was entertained throughout. I would have been interested in recording dates etc but they are not in the booklet. The booklet is sparse, in fact, lacking any libretto - to be expected, unfortunately - or synopsis of the operas or details on Puccini. You also look in vain for details about the artists. This lets the set down a little as it gives the impression that it was flung together. I doubt that was the case as the selections here appear to have been intelligently chosen. Throughout the sound is good and all the selections are stereo.

-- David Bennett, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. La Bohème: Che gelida manina by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Alfredo Kraus ()
Conductor:  James Levine
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1896; Italy 
Length: 5 Minutes 2 Secs. 
2. La Bohème: Si, mi chiamano Mimì by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Nicolai Gedda (), Mirella Freni ()
Conductor:  Thomas Schippers
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1896; Italy 
Length: 4 Minutes 56 Secs. 
3. La bohème: Act 1. O soave fanciulla by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Roberto Alagna (), Leontina Vaduva ()
Conductor:  Antonio Pappano
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1896; Italy 
Length: 3 Minutes 55 Secs. 
4. La Bohème: Quando m'en vo' soletta "Musetta's Waltz" by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Ghena Dimitrova ()
Conductor:  Anton Guadagno
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1896; Italy 
Length: 2 Minutes 32 Secs. 
5. La Bohème: Donde lieta uscì by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Montserrat Caballé ()
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1896; Italy 
Length: 3 Minutes 25 Secs. 
6. La bohème: Act 3. Quartet. Dunque: è proprio finita! by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Daniela Dessi (), Adelina Scarabelli (), Paolo Gavanelli (),
Giuseppe Sabbatini ()
Conductor:  Gianluigi Gelmetti
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1896; Italy 
Length: 5 Minutes 44 Secs. 
7. La bohème: Act 4. In un coupé?... O Mimì, tu più non torni by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Alfredo Kraus (), Sherrill Milnes ()
Conductor:  James Levine
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1896; Italy 
Length: 4 Minutes 55 Secs. 
8. Gianni Schicchi: O mio babbino caro by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Angela Gheorghiu ()
Conductor:  Antonio Pappano
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1918; Italy 
Length: 2 Minutes 7 Secs. 
9. La fanciulla del West: Act 1. Minnie, dalla mia casa son partito... Laggiù nel Soledad by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Birgit Nilsson (), Andrea Mongelli ()
Conductor:  Lovro von Matacic
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910 
Length: 4 Minutes 32 Secs. 
10. La fanciulla del West: Act 3. Ch'ella mi creda libero e lontano by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Charles Craig ()
Conductor:  Michael Collins
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910 
Length: 2 Minutes 18 Secs. 
11. Madama Butterfly: Act 1. Dovunque al mondo... Amore o grillo by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Mario Sereni (), Jussi Björling (), Victoria de los Angeles (),
Piero de Palma ()
Conductor:  Gabriele Santini
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1904 
Length: 7 Minutes 36 Secs. 
12. Madama Butterfly: Act 1. Butterfly's Entrance. Quanto cielo!... Ancora un passo or via by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Jussi Björling (), Mario Sereni (), Piero de Palma (),
Victoria de los Angeles ()
Conductor:  Gabriele Santini
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1904 
Length: 3 Minutes 2 Secs. 
13. Madama Butterfly: Viene la sera...Bimba dagli occhi pieni by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Leonora Lafayette (), Richard Lewis ()
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1904; Italy 
Length: 10 Minutes 59 Secs. 
14. Madama Butterfly: Un bel dì vedremo by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Renata Scotto ()
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1904; Italy 
Length: 4 Minutes 43 Secs. 
15. Madama Butterfly: Act 2. Humming Chorus by Giacomo Puccini
Conductor:  Lamberto Gardelli
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1904 
Length: 3 Minutes 10 Secs. 
16. Madama Butterfly: Act 2. Con onor muore by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Carlo Bergonzi (), Renata Scotto ()
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1904 
Length: 5 Minutes 32 Secs. 
17. Tosca: Act 1. Recondita armonia by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Placido Domingo ()
Conductor:  Eugene Kohn
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900; Italy 
Length: 2 Minutes 56 Secs. 
18. Tosca: Act 1. Love Duet. Mario! Mario! Mario! by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Maria Callas (), Carlo Bergonzi ()
Conductor:  Georges Prêtre
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900; Italy 
Length: 13 Minutes 1 Secs. 
19. Tosca: Act 1. Te Deum. Tre sbirri, una carozza by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Tito Gobbi (), Renato Ercolani ()
Conductor:  Georges Prêtre
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900; Italy 
Length: 3 Minutes 53 Secs. 
20. Tosca: Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Angela Gheorghiu ()
Conductor:  Antonio Pappano
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900; Italy 
Length: 3 Minutes 27 Secs. 
21. Tosca: E lucevan le stelle by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Franco Corelli ()
Conductor:  Franco Ferraris
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900; Italy 
Length: 3 Minutes 25 Secs. 
22. Manon Lescaut: Act 1. Donna non vidi mai by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Nicolai Gedda ()
Conductor:  Giuseppe Patané
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893 
Length: 2 Minutes 21 Secs. 
23. Manon Lescaut: Act 2. In quelle trine morbide by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Ruth Ann Swenson ()
Conductor:  Julius Rudel
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893 
Length: 2 Minutes 51 Secs. 
24. Manon Lescaut: Act 2. Dunque questa lettiga? Tu, tu, amore, tu? by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Richard Lewis (), Leonora Lafayette ()
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893 
Length: 7 Minutes 52 Secs. 
25. Manon Lescaut: Act 3. Intermezzo by Giacomo Puccini
Conductor:  Bruno Bartoletti
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893 
Length: 4 Minutes 46 Secs. 
26. Manon Lescaut: Act 4. Sola, perduta, abbandonata by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Ghena Dimitrova ()
Conductor:  Anton Guadagno
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893 
Length: 4 Minutes 26 Secs. 
27. Gianni Schicchi: Firenze è come un albero fiorito by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Roberto Alagna ()
Conductor:  Antonio Pappano
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1918; Italy 
Length: 2 Minutes 28 Secs. 
28. La Rondine: Ch'il bel sogno di Doretta by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Montserrat Caballé ()
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1917; Italy 
Length: 3 Minutes 7 Secs. 
29. Suor Angelica: Senza mamma, o bimbo, tu sei morto by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Dame Kiri Te Kanawa ()
Conductor:  Myung-Whun Chung
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1918; Italy 
Length: 5 Minutes 16 Secs. 
30. Turandot: Act 1. Signore, ascolta! by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Ruth Ann Swenson ()
Conductor:  Julius Rudel
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1926 
Length: 2 Minutes 46 Secs. 
31. Turandot: Act 1. Non piangere, Liù! by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Bonaldo Giaiotti (), Renata Scotto (), Franco Corelli ()
Conductor:  Francesco Molinari-Pradelli
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1926 
Length: 2 Minutes 14 Secs. 
32. Turandot: Act 2. In questa reggia by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Ghena Dimitrova ()
Conductor:  Anton Guadagno
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1926 
Length: 6 Minutes 0 Secs. 
33. Turandot: Act 3. Tu che di gel sei cinta by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  Montserrat Caballé ()
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1926 
Length: 2 Minutes 31 Secs. 
34. Turandot: Act 3. Nessun dorma by Giacomo Puccini
Performer:  José Carreras ()
Conductor:  Alain Lombard
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1926 
Length: 4 Minutes 11 Secs. 

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