Notes and Editorial Reviews
Grippingly eloquent. The interplay between impulsive ardor and reticence, between chastity and passion, apprehension and self-abandonment is graphically portrayed.
Sinopoli's Madama Butterfly is very moving, often extremely beautiful (not even Karajan makes Puccini's orchestra sound so ravishing) and, in a single, crucial sense, deeply disconcerting. In a word, it is quite sensationally slow, the slowest Butterfly in my experience, and by a substantial margin... His speeds are by no means all slow: the introduction, the opening scene, "Un bel di," much of the flower duet, the humming chorus—all these passages and others are at a relatively 'normal' tempo. The half-hour that Sinopoli adds to Leinsdorf's timing
is achieved partly by an extreme (and masterfully controlled) use of rubato, partly by taking some sections of the score really very slowly indeed...
...[Y]ou get a better idea of what this performance is really about from the entrance music for Butterfly and her friends (undeniably slow but exquisitely phrased and with the choral/orchestral texture immaculately balanced; fragile music) and from the love duet, where Sinopoli gets closer than any other conductor to realizing Puccini's apparently impossible demand that the passage ("Dicon ch'oltre mare") in which Butterfly fearfully asks whether it is true that in Pinkerton's country they pierce butterflies with pins, should be at very nearly twice the speed of the music ("Vogliatemi bene") that precedes it. The interplay in this duet between impulsive ardour and reticence, between (in Butterfly's own half-comprehending mind) chastity and passion, apprehension and self-abandonment is graphically portrayed.
Sinopoli's objective becomes more and more evident as the opera proceeds: to redefine as tragedy what is still often seen as a pathetic but sentimental anecdote. The letter-reading in Act 2 scene I (the tempo more or less forcing Sharpless to react with pity instead of impatience to Butterfly's eager interruptions) is very quiet as well as slow, filled with gradually mounting sadness; her introduction of the child as proof that Pinkerton must return draws a gesture of huge but doomed tragic pride from the orchestra; there is a poignant shadow over much of the flower duet and the scene ends in oppressive darkness. The humming chorus is a beautiful but ineffably sad commentary on Butterfly's faith in Pinkerton (its theme was first heard when his treachery was first hinted at), the introduction to the final scene an outburst of passionate protest and despair.
...The cast (I have delayed discussing it for far too long, but you see why) is a fine one, with Berganza one of the best Suzukis on record and Pons a concerned and sympathetic Sharpless. Freni is in fuller voice than for Karaján, the timbre a shade less pure, but she is still a deeply affecting and expressive Butterfly, seizing all the chances Sinopoli gives her to intensify the pathos of her role, never taxed by his slow pace...
The recording of the new DG version is superb, with a very natural balance and a beautiful clarity to the orchestral textures... Sinopoli's creative infidelity to the letter of the text in favour of what he sees as its essentially tragic spirit will be far too idiosyncratic for some tastes, but every Puccinian should hear it—every anti Puccinian, come to that—and many, I suspect, will be won over by its gripping eloquence.
-- Gramophone [12/1988]
reviewing the original release of this performance, DG 423567
Works on This Recording
Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini
Teresa Berganza (Mezzo Soprano),
Juan Pons (Baritone),
Anthony Laciura (Tenor),
Mark Curtis (Tenor),
Marianne Rorholm (Mezzo Soprano),
Kurt Rydl (Bass),
Petteri Salomaa (Bass),
Hidenori Komatsu (Baritone),
Hitomi Katagiri (Mezzo Soprano),
José Carreras (Tenor),
Mirella Freni (Soprano),
Judith Howarth (Soprano),
Noriko Sasaki (Soprano)
Ambrosian Opera Chorus,
Written: 1904; Italy
Date of Recording: 04/1987
Venue: Watford Town Hall, London, England
Length: 154 Minutes 14 Secs.
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