Aureole etc.




Nimbus on-line




If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


 REVIEW

Some items
to consider

 


Enjoy the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra wherever you are. App available for iOS and Android


Mahler symphony 6 Nott


Vaughan Williams Symphony 3 etc.


Lyrita New Recording


Lyrita Premiere Recordings

Lyrita 4CDs £16 incl.postage

Lyrita 4CDs £16 incl.postage


Decca Phase 4 - 40CDs


Judith Bailey, George Lloyd


BAX Orchestral pieces


CASKEN Violin Concerto

Schumann Symphonies Rattle


Complete Brahms
Bargain price

 

 

 

 

alternatively
CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS
Download: Classicsonline

 


Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Madama Butterfly - opera in two acts (1904)
Madama Butterfly - Angela Gheorghiu (soprano); Pinkerton - Jonas Kaufmann (tenor); Suzuki - Enkeledja Shkosa (mezzo); Sharpless - Fabio Capitanucci (baritone); Goro - Gregory Bonfatti (tenor); Il Bonze - Raymond Aceto (bass); Kate Pinkerton - Cristina Reale (soprano)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia Nationale di Santa Cecilia, Rome/Antonio Pappano
rec. Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome, August 2008. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 2 64187 2 8 [62.04 + 73.08]
Experience Classicsonline




Never say never … ever! It was not that long ago that EMI announced the supposed last ever studio recording of an opera. They reckoned the economics just didn't make sense and with accountants as much in charge of recording policy as Artist and Repertoire departments, it appeared a sane judgement. With opera recordings involving orchestras, expensive conductors and singers, not to mention venues, the sessions often spreading into several weeks it was to be expected. Over twenty-five years ago Decca announced the first million pound opera recording. On that basis, even in the halcyon days of the CD boom, getting the money back was not merely long term but problematic; the word “ever” was even more appropriate. One swallow does not make a spring and it would be wrong to assume this present studio recording presages a change of policy to the old ways. The days of the 1950s through to the 1980s are probably gone for ever - certainly on that scale. That was when the recording majors accommodated their contracted artists' desires to set down their interpretations of roles for posterity, all in as near perfect studio conditions and acoustics as possible. The take-off of DVD live recordings, particularly of opera, with all the pluses of frisson and the distractions of stage noise and applause, filled some gaps. Otherwise there have been one or two opera recordings made in the studio from the likes of Opera Rara, who benefit from the support of the Sir Peter Moores Foundation, or more often following or contemporaneous with live performances.
The days of the early LP, when recording companies thought nothing of reprising an opera recording within a short period, brought four versions of Madama Butterfly from EMI within a decade, a mere five years between each and two with unlikely divas in the title role. The first and third featured the light-voiced Victoria de Los Angeles, first in mono and then stereo. Maria Callas, who had not sung the role on stage at the time and only ever did so on three occasions (see review), quickly followed the mono version. The final one featured the stronger-voiced Renata Scotto in an all-Italian cast recorded under John Barbirolli recorded in Rome in 1964 (see review). Barbirolli, like Pappano on this recording, was of Italian descent and also had a distinguished career in the opera pit. Regrettably his skill as a recording conductor of the genre was realised too late by EMI. Pappano on the other hand was signed up even before he became supremo at Covent Garden. The company added Angela Gheorghiu to their contracted artist roster, signing her from Decca to join her husband the tenor Roberto Alagna. The trio of conductor, tenor and soprano made a number of widely admired recordings. These included Puccini's La Rondine, and Tosca, which became the soundtrack of the later film, and Massenet's Werther and Manon before EMI announced the 'last' of their studio recordings.

Pappano, like Barbirolli has a feel for Puccini's music, balancing the tragic drama of the story with its more lyrical lines. Meanwhile Gheorghiu has never sung the eponymous role on stage. In that she would join not only Callas, but also a quite distinguished list of divas that set down their interpretation before recording the role. In Gheorghiu's recent combined CD and DVD issue titled My Puccini (see review) I found her Butterfly a weaker interpretation than the other ladies represented in the collection. I wondered if this was a consequence of lack of stage experience. That is as maybe; what is certainly the case in this recording is that the soprano gives a very different, all encompassing, portrayal of a role that is not the easiest to bring off on record or on stage.

In Belasco's play, Butterfly is only fourteen or fifteen years of age. In some opera recordings this has tempted interpreters of the eponymous role into affecting a younger voice. But a young-sounding voice cannot surmount Puccini's orchestration satisfactorily nor fully express the more stressful emotions that Butterfly experiences. The lyrical love music of act 1 is the easiest to portray and Gheorghiu sails through it with ease. She fills the lines with fulsome, rounded tone that is very easy on the ear. She does not make any attempt at a child-like voice, bringing her full range of tonal colour and expression to the scene (CD 1 trs.14-17). For me the first part of act two sorts the lasting Butterflies from the ephemera. Butterfly herself has to accommodate the whole gamut of emotions, first as she tries to convince the sceptical Suzuki that Pinkerton will return, (CD 1 trs.19-20) and then receives the American Consul, Sharpless, and refuses to let him convey his somewhat different message (CD 2 trs.1-7). Even as Gheorghiu sings this scene, does her Butterfly really believe or does she have inner doubts? This is where Gheorghiu's interpretation is at a different level to the extract on the recital DVD. But then Butterfly's spirits rise as she spots a ship in the harbour. She believes again. Butterfly and Suzuki await the dawn. They share the beauty of the flower duet as they prepare the home for Pinkerton's anticipated arrival by spreading flower petals, their voices intertwining in Puccini's melody and even Suzuki believing again (CD 2 tr10). Then Pappano and the chorus weave a gently even lingering and poignant Humming Chorus (CD 2 tr.13).

In the opening of the last scene (CD 2 tr.14) Pappano really allows his band to get at Puccini's near strident orchestral introduction, wholly appropriate for the drama to come. So too is his treatment of the orchestral role in Butterfly's first attempt to take her own life, having read her father's inscription on the knife: He dies with honour who cannot live with honour” and before Suzuki thrusts the young child into the room (Trs.24-25). Here he balances modulation and tempo perfectly to match Butterfly's words to herself. It is in this conclusion that the whole sad tale unfolds: a suave American is interested in cheap easy sex rather than facing the truth and reality of the Consul's words. Earlier Butterfly sleeps with fatigue but in hope and expectation as Suzuki's fears are proved correct. She opens the door to Pinkerton and Sharpless, sees another woman and is told that they have come to make arrangements for the future of Butterfly's child (CD 2 trs.18-20). Shkosa's Suzuki with her well-coloured mezzo tones really comes into her own, already having characterised excellently, as the two women wait in their vigil. She has to break the news and share in the agony of explaining to Butterfly who Kate is and why she has come (trs.23-24). But it is Gheorghiu's singing and characterisation of Butterfly's many emotions in this last act that are quite superb. Never once does she let her voice loosen as she interprets Butterfly's tragic emotions. The story reaches its climax with Butterfly's suicide in front of her blindfolded son (trs.25-26).

As Lieutenant Pinkerton, the guy who thinks he can buy a girl and then cast her aside, Kaufmann sings with clear, open and heroic tone. Nobody, except perhaps Bergonzi on his two recordings, can make Pinkerton anything but a loathsome cad. Kaufmann accepts that reality and plays him for what Pinkerton is, a macho Yank, and does so convincingly. As the hapless fall guy who has to do Pinkerton's dirty work, and then pick up the pieces, the Sharpless of Fabio Capitanucci is steady and well characterised, if a little throaty. But as in few other operas in the repertoire, success depends on the singing and characterisation of a single role, that of the eponymous Madama Butterfly. It is evident that Angela Gheorghiu has put much effort and time into preparing the role. Her interpretation is of the highest class in terms of vocal beauty and in characterisation. Her conception of Butterfly is no pubescent ingénue, but a young woman who knows a little of life's trials and temptations. No need for girlish tones. She is lyric-voiced when appropriate but always with body and colour in her voice. She is always capable of riding Puccini's more dramatic moments without spread or loss of tonal beauty. Given the considerable challenges of setting her interpretation down without the benefit of stage experience, it is an even more impressive achievement and can stand alongside any other diva on record. Perhaps she and the team involved might be tempted to use the soundtrack for a film, as with Tosca. This would be infinitely preferable to Gheorghiu stressing her lovely voice for dramatic effect in one of the larger theatres.

This recording should make commercial sense for EMI. If it does, then it will not be another 'last' studio recording of an opera.

Robert J Farr

See also review by Ralph Moore

 


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Hyperion

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Alto
Arcodiva
Atoll
CDAccord
Cameo Classics
Centaur
Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample
 


EXPLORE MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL

Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews

 

Discographies
   Composer
      Composer surveys
   National
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
.
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

Interviews
With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site

Nostalgia

Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Comment
Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure

Announcements

 

Community
Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Reviewers
Pat and present

Helpers invited!

Resources
How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips


Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Publishers
Other links
Newsgroups
Web News sites etc

PotPourri
A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Questionnaire    
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Dictionary
Magazines
Newsfeed  
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools




Return to Review Index

Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.