Puccini: Madama Butterfly

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Madama Butterfly
PERFORMER: Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann, Enkelejda Shkosa, Fabio Capitanucci; Chorus & Orchestra of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Roma/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: 264 1872

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In some ways this is a magnificent recording. Butterfly should only be recorded when there is an important singer whose interpretation of the role deserves preservation. Actually Angela Gheorghiu hasn’t sung Butterfly on stage, but she has the right kind of voice for the role, even if not the stamina for singing it in the theatre. Callas had never sung the part when she recorded it, but she made its greatest ever recording.

In many respects Gheorghiu’s singing reminds me of Callas’s: in Act I they both adopt a ‘little girl’ voice, and in Act II they both sound more mature, and develop during that Act, so that by the tragic climax they present a strong personality in full possession of her destiny. This is Gheorghiu’s greatest achievement on disc.

Jonas Kaufmann as the winning, faithless Pinkerton is on tremendous form, too, though he does make the role more sympathetic than usual. Minor roles are adequately sung.

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What puts the enterprise in question is the conducting of Pappano. Butterfly is an intimate drama, but the dynamic range is so enlarged here that it sounds like Wagner in full flow. Throughout, there are too many huge orchestral climaxes, as also unreal quiet passages; that’s a pity, because Gheorghiu really should be heard. Michael Tanner