> Puccini - Madama Butterfly / La Boheme [CMG]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Madama Butterfly: Opera in Three Acts (complete)
Madama Butterfly (Cio-Cio-San): Renata Tebaldi (soprano)
Suzuki: Nell Rankin (mezzo-soprano)
Kate Pinkerton: Gianna Diozzi (mezzo-soprano)
Lieutenant B F Pinkerton: Giuseppe Campora (tenor)
Sharpless: Giovanni Inghilleri (baritone)
Goro: Piero de Palma (tenor)
Prince Yamadori: Melchiorre Luise (bass)
The Bonze: Fernando Corena (bass)
Imperial Commissioner: Michele Calvino (baritone)
Registrar: Luigi Pizzeri (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Accademia Santa Cecilia of Rome/Alberto Erede
from Decca LXT 2638/40, recorded 1951
Puccini: La Boheme
(a) Si, mi chiamano Mimi
(b) Donde lieta usci
Renata Tebaldi, soprano
Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Nino Sanzogno
from Cetra 22001, recorded 1/3/50
PEARL GEMS 0172 [2CDs: 72'31"+67'45"]

It may come as a surprise to some to see this famous Decca recording issued by Pearl. In fact the latter have already offered a transfer of the 1950 Decca Bohème, also with Tebaldi. Collectors may need to be reminded that recordings such as these, along with passing out of copyright, are now, fifty years on, properly considered "historical."

Decca of course released their own reissue of all the Tebaldi mono sets several years ago; this Butterfly was 440 230-2. Veteran collectors who still cherish their LPs may still have it on Ace of Clubs (UK) or Richmond (US).

Certainly interest will centre on the quality of the respective transfers; the quality of the performance is long familiar. But, for the benefit of younger listeners, it may be helpful to point out certain salient particulars.

Tebaldi had not sung Butterfly on stage at the time she made this, her first recording of the role. In fact her first stage Cio-Cio-San came only in 1958, the year of her stereo remake of the opera under Serafin and with Carlo Bergonzi as Pinkerton and Fiorenza Cossotto as Suzuki.

This earlier recording is less dazzlingly cast than Serafin's. Giuseppe Campora in 1951 still possessed a pleasing lyric tenor voice but his technique was not complete; high notes could be shrill and effortful. Later his vocal problems would lead to a curtailment of his career in leading theatres. But here he sings well and with some imaginative phrasing. He partners the diva well for the most part and, when he moderates the pressure on his tones, can be charming.

Nell Rankin had a lengthy career in major dramatic mezzo-soprano roles at the New York Metropolitan. Hers was never a glamorous instrument but she was a dedicated artist and gave intense and effective interpretations of Amneris, Laura, Azucena and other such roles. Suzuki gives her scant scope for the kind of large-scale vocal acting she did best, but it is good to have some souvenir of her artistry on disc; she made few records.

Why Decca thought to engage the veteran Inghilleri (born 1894) for Sharpless as well as Marcello in the 1950 Bohème with Tebaldi remains unknown. His dry voice is not compensated by any particular interpretative insights. At least as Sharpless his mature sound is more appropriate than it was for Marcello!

The other artists are all adequate or better in their roles. De Palma stands out, as he did in dozens of recordings, for mellifluous sound and keen but unobtrusive characterisation. Some will be surprised to find the noted buffo bass Fernando Corena as the implacable Bonze; in fact he was Decca's King in Aida, Monterone in Rigoletto, and Lodovico in Otello in the early 1950s.

Tebaldi's interpretation is fundamentally vocal. That is to say, she uses the sound of the voice to make dramatic points, softening and floating to express Butterfly's touching aspirations (and in 1951 Tebaldi's floating of the voice around the upper G-A area was second to none), narrowing and darkly launching phrases to sound Butterfly's anger or stubborn insistence. Others, Renata Scotto most notably, have worked more specifically off the words. Still Tebaldi, whose very large voice might seem less naturally suited to the fragile Butterfly than some, has so beautiful a sound, so sincere and natural a delivery of the lines, that she makes a fully convincing heroine on her own terms. How many Butterflys since she relinquished the role have even approached the overall quality of her achievement here?

Alberto Erede's direction, without any outstanding specificity of profile, makes use of just tempi and solid support for the singers who, thus, sound comfortable and confident at all times - something not to be taken for granted with more "dynamic" (read, wilful) maestri at the helm.

I assume that Pearl has worked from LP originals. I can't imagine Universal making the original tapes available, but you never know. If so they have successfully reduced surface noise. Sound is a bit brighter here than in the last Decca CD reissue; vocal lines are therefore occasionally a bit edgy but, truth to tell, Decca's version is not wholly free of distortion. In both cases it's minimal.

Pearl include as a bonus two early Tebaldi arias recorded for Cetra. This is the young Tebaldi in all her glory. Enough said.

Calvin M Goodwin

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