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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Madama Butterfly - opera in two acts
Madama Butterfly, Renata Scotto (sop). Pinkerton, Placido Domingo (ten). Suzuki, Gillian Knight (mezzo). Sharpless, Ingvar Wixell (bar). Goro, Florindo Andreolli (ten). Il Bonze, Malcolm King (bass) Kate Pinkerton, Ann Murray (mezzo)
Ambrosian Opera Chorus
Philharmonia Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
No venue or recording dates given, but believed recorded 1975.
SONY CLASSICAL SM2K 91135 [2CDs: 68.24+60.30]


With the decline in the classical music industry there is scarcely a couple of handfuls of new recordings of ‘mainstream’ opera made each year. A significant number of these are on the Chandos and Opera Rara labels. They often owe their existence to sponsorship by the Peter Moores Foundation. As a consequence, a generation of significant singers is passing without having the opportunity of setting down even their signature roles for posterity. Looking back, it is scarcely credible that a mere 15 or 20 years ago a singer, particularly a diva or tenor, might get opportunity for a second or even third recording of a role. This doubtless allows present and future scholars, and enthusiasts, to compare a singer’s interpretation of a role, and the development or deterioration, of the voice.

On this recording it is Renato Scotto who returned to record Butterfly, eleven or so years after her first effort under Barbirolli. This was reviewed by me elsewhere on this site as an EMI ‘GROC’ reissue. In my review of the EMI set, whilst admiring Scotto’s interpretation and characterization, I made mild criticism of a tendency to over-act with her voice to give a pseudo childish effect. (Butterfly is supposed to be only 14 years of age). I also noted some unsteadiness and spread of the voice above the stave. The most pleasing aspect of the present Sony recording is that Scotto is in better voice. She doesn’t overdo the ‘child’ singing and generally brings fuller tone and steadiness. This can be heard particularly well in her rendering of ‘Un bel di, vedremo’ (CD 1 tr. 18). Yes, there are moments of spread when under pressure, but these instances are few. They are more than compensated for by the superb interpretation the singer brings to the part. As Pinkerton, Domingo is in fresh youthful voice, his tone at its most lyric yet with abundant power for climaxes. His interpretation has no great depth such as Bergonzi (Scotto’s earlier partner) was able to inject. Indeed, there is a touch too much ‘can belto’ at times. In the love duet (CD 1 trs. 15-16), aided by Maazel’s pressing tempi, he gives the impression of the archetypical U.S. marine with only one thought between his ears, and that hasn’t much to do with the consequences of unprotected sex!

Whilst Barbirolli was sometimes a little self-indulgent, Maazel’s is much more dramatic. There is no lingering. With the very forward recording set at a high level the results, whilst dynamic and dramatic, can seem over-aggressive. As to the other singing parts, Wixell’s Sharpless lacks the Italian ‘squilla’ that I admired in Panerai’s interpretation for Barbirolli’s all-native cast. The same could be said of Gillian Knight’s Suzuki, except that she contrasts satisfyingly with her Butterfly and they duet well together (CD 2 trs. 10-11). The other minor parts are all sung well by predominantly British comprimarios who only lack what Barbirolli’s cast had: Italian birth certificates.

As I outline in my review of Gluck’s ‘Iphigénie en Tauride’ in this series from Sony, the supporting documentation is appalling with not even the recording year being given. That being said, it is good to have the young Domingo in such virile voice and a diva whose second effort is better sung than her first.

Robert J Farr



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