Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Vissi d’arte (Tosca) [3.05]
Se como vois piccina io fossi (Le villi) [5.03]
In quelle trine morbidi (Manon Lescaut) [2.40]
Intermezzo (Manon Lescaut) [5.06] (3)
Sola, perduta, abbandonata (Manon Lescaut) [5.37]
Sole e amore [1.51] *
Si, Mi chiamano Mimi (La Boheme) [4.49]
Donee lieta usci al tuo grido (La Boheme) [3.22]
Canto d’anime [1.40] *
Un bel di vedremo (Madama Butterfly) [4.07]
Intermezzo (Madama Butterfly) [7.33] (3)
Ch’il bel sogno di Doretta (La Rondine) [2.51]
Morire? [2.32] *
Senza mamma (Suor Angelica) [4.49]
O mio babbino caro (Gianni Schicchi) [2.15]
Signore ascolta! (Turandot) [2.38]
Tu che di gel sei cinta (Turandot) [2.09]
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano)
Roger Vignoles (piano)*
Orchestra de l’Opera National de Lyon/Kent Nagano
rec. 14-22 May 1996, Opera National de Lyon
WARNER APEX 2564 67391-4 [63.24]
In this recording, made in 1996, Kiri Te Kanawa performs most of the significant arias that Puccini wrote for his lyric soprano heroines. She includes Vissi d’arte from Tosca (which she recorded with Solti), but that is the most dramatic role that she essays. Not surprisingly we don’t get anything from Minnie or from Turandot. The problem with this selection is that with so many of Puccini’s lyric outpourings all together, there is just too much plangency in the recital; you want for variety. That said, the selection of lyric arias is admirably complete including something from Le villi. Apart from the item from Tosca, the arias are sung in chronological order.
Variety is provided, in the shape of the intermezzos from Manon Lescaut and Madama Butterfly, plus three songs. I could not help feeling that it would have made for a more satisfactory recital if Te Kanawa had recorded more of the songs with piano, or perhaps given us Musetta’s Waltz from La Boheme. Of the three songs included one, Sole e amore is something contributed to a magazine by Puccini in 1888; he later re-used the material in La Boheme. Morire is similarly linked to La Rondine and Canto d’anime was commissioned in 1903 and seems to be a pre-echo of Gianni Schicchi. 

Te Kanawa’s response to each of the arias is thoughtful and sensitive, with nicely moulded phrases and a careful response to the text. Her Tosca does lack the ultimate edge of imperious diva-dom which more dramatic sopranos bring to us, but within the parameters she sets herself Te Kanawa’s is a distinguished and moving response. She does sound a little mature for O mio babbino caro, but I suppose in the context of a recital this matters less. Whilst Butterfly is meant to be young, the music that Puccini wrote for her seems to call for a far more mature attitude, as here.
Some lyric sopranos, as they get older, have voices which develop dramatic potential and others remain lyrics all their lives. Te Kanawa is one of the latter and it is amazing how much of the beauty of her voice has continued throughout her singing career. On this disc she is in her mid 50s and the voice is still creamily beautiful. But the recording itself is not exactly kind. Inevitably her voice has developed more vibrato with the years and this is picked up in extreme detail. This is another of those recordings where you can’t help feeling that what you hear is not quite what you would experience if you attended the recital live. If you’ve never experienced Te Kanawa before, then there are one or two places where you might wonder what all the fuss was about, and the fault lies in the recording not the singer.
The CD booklet is in the super-budget class with only a listing of the tracks.
Te Kanawa is well supported by Kent Nagano and the Lyons Opera Orchestra and the orchestra shine in their two solo spots. Roger Vignoles provides distinguished support in the three songs with piano and it’s a shame that room could not have been found for more.
This is an attractive recital, but one that I’d dip into rather than playing end to end. If I wanted Te Kanawa in Puccini then I think I’d be more inclined to choose one of her earlier complete recordings. If I wanted a selection of Puccini’s arias for lyric soprano then I would look round for other collections; Tebaldi or De Los Angeles would be my starting point.
Having said all this in some quarters reviews of the original disc were reasonably complimentary. So if Te Kanawa appeals, then do try it.  

Robert Hugill 

If Te Kanawa appeals do try this.