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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Madama Butterfly (1904) - highlights
Act I:
1. Ah! quanto cielo! quanto mar! … Ancora un passo or via [3:45]
2. Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malia [11:35]
Act II:
3. Un bel di vedremo [4:37]
4. E questo? E questo? ...Che tua madre dovrà [5:14]
5. Scuoti quwlla fronda di ciliegio [5:18]
6. Humming Chorus [3:21]
7. Verrà, verrà [1:58]
8. Addio, fiorito asil…Glielo dirai?... Che vuol da me?... Come una mosca prigioniera … Con onor muore [18:11]
Renata Scotto (soprano) – Madama Butterfly; Anna di Stasio (mezzo) – Suzuki; Carlo Bergonzi (tenor) – B.F. Pinkerton; Rolando Panerai (baritone) – Sharpless; Silvana Padoan (mezzo) – Kate Pinkerton
Rome Opera House Chorus and Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
rec. Rome Opera House, 16-27 August 1966. ADD


Highlights discs like the present one can be quite frustrating. As soon as one gets involved in the drama we come to the end of the excerpt. More often than not this is in the middle of an act and the music is faded down. It is a blessing to find at least two longer stretches of continuous music on this disc: the duet between Pinkerton and Butterfly from act I. I just wish it had started even earlier, at Pinkerton’s Viene la sera, since Bergonzi sings his role so marvellously. Then comes a sequence in act II from Pinkerton’s short farewell Addio, fiorito asil until Butterfly’s death. In both cases there is a natural end-of-act.

It may seem unfair first of all to apostrophize the tenor in what is after all a soprano’s opera, but Carlo Bergonzi was in tremendous form, lyrical and ardent. He was probably the best Pinkerton on record, and I have not left out of the reckoning Gedda, Pavarotti or Björling. Björling, in his last complete opera was already marked by the heart-defect that took his life a year later. Bergonzi recorded the role several years earlier for Decca against Tebaldi and with Serafin conducting – also a recommendable set. This one is special on account of Sir John’s lovingly attentive conducting. As far as I can remember his only other opera recordings were Dido and Aeneas with Victoria de los Angeles and Otello with Gwyneth Jones, James McCracken and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. It is through this Butterfly that he is best remembered as an opera conductor. Barbirolli could be idiosyncratic, especially during his last years, but such was his commitment and love for the music that he almost always brought off even the most dangerously slow tempos. The Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 is a famous example of this and so are many memorable moments in this recording: the cherry blossom duet, the Humming Chorus and also the Pinkerton – Butterfly duet in act 1.

In Renata Scotto he has a Butterfly of exceptional sensitivity and insight. When Scotto made her operatic debut, aged 18, she first sang Violetta. Her second role was Madama Butterfly. After numerous performances over a period of almost fourteen years she was deeply inside the part by the time this recording was made and her voice was still in excellent shape. She was still mainly a lyrical soprano but early on showed such dramatic potential that it’s no wonder she gradually took on heavier roles like Tosca and Norma. I have a companion disc (Nabucco highlights) to the present one, recorded twelve years later, and it is instructive to notice how this kind of repertoire affected her voice. As Butterfly she has something of the bite and edge of Callas, and this was to develop during years to come. She has her moments of penetrating tone and a less than ideally controlled vibrato – listen to Un bel di vedremo – but the sensitive phrasing and feeling silences criticism. Her final scene, before her suicide, is truly heartrending.

The choice of excerpts concentrates on her rendering of the title role and leaves the rest of the cast – apart from Bergonzi – very much in the shadows. We hear a snippet of Rolando Panerai’s Sharpless and Anna di Stasio in the Cherry Blossom duet shows what a fine singer she was. The Rome Opera Chorus are soft and beautiful in the Humming Chorus. The vintage 1960s recording is atmospheric and the only adverse criticism I have is the parsimonious playing time. On the other hand the disc is inexpensive. No texts and translations but at least we get a cued synopsis.

The complete opera is now in EMI’s medium prices GROC series with full documentation. This must always be a first recommendation, but for readers who are already well stocked with Butterflies but want to have samples of two of the finest Italian singers of forty years ago, this is an excellent buy.

Göran Forsling 




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