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Notes and Editorial Reviews
This opera, about a young geisha who falls in love with a selfish American officer, is abandoned, has his child and later kills herself is a mainstay of the repertoire worldwide. The success of a performance of Madama Butterfly relies on the conductor resisting excess - a challenge given the number of wonderful tunes and dramatic situations which he or she might be forgiven for wallowing in.
Perhaps even more than Puccini's other operas, Butterfly is subject to interpretation which can hugely alter the feel and impact of this most popular of works. The casting is frequently suspect with the title role being sung by a huge variety of voices when the young character probably sounds best with a lyrical voice having a little
more heft in reserve for the end. On record there are performances of the title role with such light voices as Jeanette Pilou, Anneliese Rothenberger and Toti dal Monte who are usually considered coloratura singers or best suited to operetta. At the other end of the scale there are voices of Wagnerian proportions such as Renata Tebaldi and Maria Callas.
The role of Pinkerton is similarly sung by a wide range of singers. Some tend towards the dark and heavy such as Placido Domingo and even the tenor James King noted for his Siegmund. Others are light and lyrical such as Cesare Valletti and the young Nicolai Gedda. As such it is all the more surprising and enjoyable to find a recording with three well-matched voices and a conductor who does not push and pull the opera out of all recognition.
This performance enjoys excellent conducting from Gianandrea Gavazzeni. With speeds that are brisk but not lightning-fast compare Erich Leinsdorf and the lyrical voices of Anna Moffo and Cesare Valletti - Gavazzeni's recording, as with his L'amico Fritz and Cavalleria Rusticana has grace and charm. This is welcome in repertoire that is all too often rendered charmless and vulgar or else saccharine. An example is his pacing at the start of the opera which is not rushed but in fact far more appropriate than the decadent textures encouraged by Karajan (Pavarotti, Freni, Kerns) and especially Sinopoli (Freni, Carreras, Pons) which killed the spontaneity in their performances.
Gavazzeni's cast is excellent with Victoria de los Angeles especially fine. 'Un Bel Di' is superbly done and full of pathos. Her duet with Suzuki is well phrased and at the same time her performance of the 'Con onor muore' finale is very dramatic and powerful. There is rarely any sense of the part being too large for her. This is certainly a performance to match her classic Mimi in La Bohme. She is an intelligent artist and very effective in the duets with her partners.
Di Stefano is a vibrant Pinkerton with a youthful charisma allied to a sunny tone, unmatched in this role. His voice is more rounded than that of Gedda (Karajan with Callas) with examples such as 'Dovunque al mondo' sounding exciting and vibrant. The phrasing of the love duet in act one is what makes this performance so special with examples such as his entry on 'Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malia' sounding spontaneous and fresh.
Tito Gobbi is an exceptional Sharpless at least on record. His assumption is full of good humour and the duets with Butterfly are uniquely moving. The exchange at 'Ora a noi' [Track 18 CD 1] shows both artists at their best with the characters clearly delineated and the phrasing perfectly judged. If the voice is not so naturally warm or vibrant as the near-perfect Rolando Panerai (with Barbirolli) this is still an excellent performance.
The orchestra plays their hearts out and the chorus is nicely focused. Their performances were probably not equalled until 20 years later with Barbirolli (EMI).
The mono sound is very clear and well balanced - the act one love duet sounds very beautiful.
The CDs are prettily packaged in a slip case. There is no libretto but a detailed synopsis. The 1988 re-mastering surprisingly sounds a good deal better than some other EMI Butterfly attempts such as the hissy and bright sound on the Santini (de los Angeles, Bjorling, Sereni) or the harsh edge imparted to the 1997 reissue of the Callas, Gedda, Karajan.
-- David Bennett, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini
Arturo La Porta (Bass),
Bruno Sbalchiero (Bass),
Renato Ercolani (Tenor),
Maria Huder (Mezzo Soprano),
Anna Maria Canali (Mezzo Soprano),
Giuseppe Di Stefano (Tenor),
Tito Gobbi (Baritone),
Victoria de los Angeles (Soprano)
Rome Opera House Orchestra,
Rome Opera House Chorus
Written: 1904; Italy
Date of Recording: 1954
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
An Iconic Recording Affordably Packaged March 9, 2013
By W. Clegg (Pocatello, ID) See All My Reviews
"This 1954 recording was last issued on the sketchy Regis label in reportedly bad sonics. Thankfully, Brilliant Classics has made this, and other classic recordings, available in affordable, clear-sounding versions licensed from the companies that own the masters. In the case of this recording, the digital remastering is credited to EMI from 1988, back when the record companies hadnt yet gone stark raving mad trying to juice up the sound of their back catalogue for yet another re-issue. Happily, though this version suffers from some peaking at climaxes, it sounds like most other late 80s remasterings of mono recordings as clear and true to the original as possible. The only other alternative is the version on the Testament label that costs three times as much, though that label is renowned for the care they take over their re-issues. The performance stands well beside other iconic recordings of Butterfly, such as the Scotto/Barbirolli or Callas/Karajan versions. Gianandrea Gavazzenis highly individual and dramatic reading might bruise some orchestral and vocal details in its haste to make a point, but this makes the slower moments of repose all the more beautiful when they do occur. The beginning of Act One is a clear case in point, with Butterflys entrance more breathtaking than usual after the hectic interplay between Pinkerton, Sharpless, and Goro. In short, this Butterfly is never boring. Victoria de los Angeles recorded the role of Butterfly twice in the studio. This is her first effort and is preferable to her later, more sedate 1960 stereo reading for Gabriele Santini. Though she might not point every word in the Callas manner, de los Angeless Butterfly is well thought-out, maintaining her dignity from the first moment to the last. Her vocal delivery is by turns delicate and powerful, and she never lapses into sheer melodrama or grotesque coquettishness. It could be said that she successfully combines the beauty of a Price or Tebaldi with the edginess of a Callas or Scotto. Puccinis beloved geisha was one of the Spanish divas most successful roles. The other roles are also well cast, with di Stefano providing an ideal Pinkerton. The Italian tenor sings beautifully and conveys the characters cavalier manner better than any other version. Tito Gobbis Sharpless is often sensitive, but unlike his 1953 Scarpia, he does not provide the definitive reading of the part. Anna Maria Canali relishes her role as Suzuki and doesnt disappoint either vocally or dramatically. Of special note is Maria Huders Kate Pinkerton. Where most singers fail, Huder manages to give dimension to this small but crucial role. It is interesting to consider what went on behind the scenes at EMI when this recording was made. The set was first issued in the US on the RCA label, which frequently licensed European recordings from other companies for US distribution. Perhaps that is why the normal trio of Callas/di Stefano/Gobbi was split up. Though the 1955 version with Callas, Gedda, and Karajan has its merits, for many listeners it remains an operatic might-have-been. In any case, this 1954 collaboration with the Rome Opera remains one of the best versions of the opera on disc, and for those who dont bother about all the extras, this issue from Brilliant Classics is a true bargain."