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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Madama Butterfly (1904)
Daniela Dessi (soprano) – Madama Butterfly; Fabio Armiliato (tenor) – Pinkerton; Juan Pons (baritone) – Sharpless; Rossana Rinaldi (mezzo) – Suzuki; Maria Cioppi (soprano) – Kate Pinkerton; Luca Casalin (tenor) – Goro; Marco Camastra (bass) – Yamadori; Riccardo Zanellato (bass) – Bonzo
Orchestra e Coro Cittŕ Lirica/Placido Domingo
rec. Puccini Opera Festival, Torre del Lago, Italy, May 2004
[65:42 + 72:32]
Experience Classicsonline

There is no shortage of recordings of Madama Butterfly, vintage as well as of more recent date. Even so, the companies want to get the most out of Puccini year, so here comes another version, recorded live at Torre del Lago, where Puccini settled in 1891 and to which he always returned. That the performances are held outdoors can be heard from the beginning. It is evident from a certain lack of resonance. The orchestra sounds a bit undernourished, especially in the string department, so important in this opera. Whether this is due to the acoustics, the recording balance or the general standard of the players is hard to tell but elsewhere there is no lack of power and thrust. The applause sounds a bit lame - again, I believe, due to the outdoor conditions. There are stage noises but these are not particularly disturbing. Placido Domingo holds things together well in a performance that stresses the emotional side of the work – and rightly so. However some tempos are dangerously slow, especially in the final scene, and it is primarily thanks to Daniela Dessi’s deeply involved reading of the title role that the performance maintains momentum.

Daniela Dessi is truly endearing from her first entrance through to the bitter end. Initially her vibrato can be something of a nuisance but by degrees her voice settles and she finds a girlish timbre that makes her reading irresistible. There are patches of unsteadiness but by and large hers is an emotionally charged and psychologically believable reading. The duet that ends act I is sensitively sung with plenty of nuance. Un bel di vedremo in act II is the high-spot it should be and her encounter with Sharpless later in the act is touching in its innocence.

The rest of the cast are not quite on this level. Both Fabio Armiliato and Juan Pons are rather strained to begin with - Armiliato’s tone rather devoid of lustre and Pons is blustery. Armiliato, inspired by Dessi’s lovely Butterfly, improves and makes a subtle reading of his role. His despair in the last act is tangible. His tone remains dryish, however, and he reminds me of José Carreras’s worn delivery in his middle-to-late career. When I heard Armiliato in Vienna a couple of years before this recording there was much more sheen in his singing.

Juan Pons, who was approaching 60 at the time, has a disturbing vibrato at forte but he manages to scale down and be soft and caring when he reads the letter from Pinkerton to Madama Butterfly.

The supporting cast is variable with an oily Goro who acts well and rather unattractive singing by Yamadori and Bonzo, not wholly inappropriate of course.

There is no libretto but a brief synopsis. Serafin and Karajan on Decca and Barbirolli on EMI remain the recommended versions. If one accepts the rather primitive mono sound, Gavazzeni (now on Naxos) with Victoria de los Angeles in radiant form, is hard to beat. The present set is of interest for Daniela Dessi’s deeply probing reading of the title role.

Göran Forsling



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