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