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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Madama Butterfly (1904) [131’03].
Renata Tebaldi (soprano) Madama Butterfly; Giuseppe Campora (tenor) B. F. Pinkerton; Nell Rankin (mezzo) Suzuki; Giovanni Inghilleri (baritone) Sharpless; Piero de Palma (tenor) Goro; Gianna Diozzi (mezzo) Kate Pinkerton; Melchiorre Luise (bass) Prince Yamadori; Fernando Corena (bass) The Bonze; Michele Calvino (baritone) Imperial Commissioner; Luigi Pizzeri (bass) Registrar
Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome/Alberto Erede.
Rec. in Rome on July 19th-26th, 1951.
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Manon Lescaut (1893) In quelle trine morbide [2’39].
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Il trovatore (1853) Tacea la notte [3’49].
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust (1859) Il était un roi de Thulé [5’07]; Jewel Song [3’37] (sung in Italian).
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Elberto Erede.
Rec. in Geneva on November 21st-22nd, 1949. ADD
Notes and plot synopsis included.
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110254/5 [2CDs: 146’26]


Mark Obert-Thorn has transferred the British LP pressings of this Butterfly (LXT2638-40) in near-exemplary fashion. There are two main exceptions: the drop-out almost exactly one minute into the opera and the acoustic ‘jolt’ between tracks 5 and 6 on disc two. This product stands as eloquent testimony to Tebaldi’s Butterfly: not the most youthful Cio-Cio-San, perhaps, but a moving reading possessed of many moments of beauty.

Renata Tebaldi is indeed the star of this Butterfly. At the time of recording, she had yet to sing the role on stage, but one could hardly guess it, such is her involvement. She owns the whole part, and in doing so the big numbers become an intrinsic part of the ongoing theatre. Her voice is strong, yet able to suggest some of Butterfly’s vulnerability. ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ is light-toned and incredibly touching. This is also due in no small part to Erede’s accompanying at this point: the orchestra sounds so fragile it portrays true Oriental delicacy. The lower reaches of Tebaldi’s voice are also very effective (try the section beginning, ‘Che tua madre dovrà’, CD 2 track 3; her ensuing cries of ‘Morta’ are remarkably heart-felt). She can float a note beautifully (try the end of CD 2, track 6, when Butterfly and Suzuki sing, ‘petali d’ogni fior!’, for example).

Suzuki is taken by US-born mezzo Nell Rankin, who joined Zurich Opera in 1949, debuting at the Met in 1951. Her darker voice contrasts well with Tebaldi’s, enabling the final sections of the opera to be truly effective. Her singing of ‘Povera Butterfly’ (Act 2, part 2) is wonderfully rich, in tone as well as in meaning.

Erede’s feeling for Puccinian flow surfaces again for ‘Addio, fiorito asil!’. Giuseppe Campora, a New York Met regular, is the eloquent Pinkerton. His voice is always focused throughout his traversal of the role. Campora can also act through his voice (the ‘sobs’ in ‘Addio, fiorito asil’ are part of the interpretation, not false).

Swiss bass Fernando Corena is an authoritative Bonze. Recorded towards the end of his career, Giovanni Inghilleri’s Sharpless is warm and generous.

The splitting of the two discs of the Naxos product is curious, as it cuts after Sharpless’s ‘s’ei no dovesse ritornar piú mai’, and one is left hanging in the air, scrabbling for the second disc to get Butterfly’s reply.

It is Alberto Erede who appears as the ‘other’ star of this Butterfly. Try his pacing of the Butterfly/Pinkerton scene in Act 1, in the house (CD1, track 7), a gripping experience that flows from first to last with an easy inevitability. The opening to the second part of Act 2 sounds as an orchestral cry of anguish, prefiguring the immensely moving close of the work. Erede enables the work to emerge as a coherent, emotion-shattering whole.

Following their usual format, Naxos has appended a series of arias. Puccini provides the link (Manon Lescaut, this time: a very tender ‘In quelle trine morbide’), through a darkly shaded ‘Tacea la notte’ (Verdi’s Trovatore) to two excerpts from Gounod’s Faust, sung in Italian. Tebaldi sings them well, but ‘Il était un roi de Thulé’ does rather sound like Puccini with a French musical accent, and perhaps the Jewel Song could have sparkled more. But it is for Madama Butterfly that you will buy this set, and you will not be disappointed.

Notes, by the always reliable and always readable Malcolm Walker, are models of their kind.

Colin Clarke

The dropout on CD 1, Track 1 and the bad edit between Tracks 5 and 6 of CD 2 are on the original LP master tape, and unfortunately could not be ameliorated.

Mark Obert-Thorn




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