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Madama Butterfly (sound recording) by…

Madama Butterfly (sound recording)

by Giacomo Puccini

Other authors: Giuseppe Giacosa (Librettist), Luigi Illica (Librettist)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 4 of 4
  VPALib | Mar 6, 2019 |
Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)

Madama Butterfly

Madama Butterfly – Maria Callas
B. F. Pinkerton – Nicolai Gedda

Suzuki – Lucia Danieli
Sharpless – Mario Borriello
Goro – Renato Ercolani
The Bonze – Plinio Clabassi

Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Herbert von Karajan

Recorded: 8/1955, Teatro alla Scalla, Milan.

Naxos, 2006. 2:19:26. Liner notes by Michael Scott. Audio Restoration: Mark Obert-Thorn.


This is a recording for Karajan collectors and/or Callas fanatics. It has been devastatingly superseded by Karajan’s 1974 account with Freni and Pavarotti. This production from La Scala, where Karajan was regular guest conductor in the 1950s and 1960s, cannot even begin to compare. Callas, to begin with, is simply miscast. In roles that required girlish innocence and virginity, such as Butterfly and Gilda from Rigoletto, her thick voice didn’t come off very well. She does improve but slightly in the long second act which, on the whole, gives a greater scope to her dramatic talent. Nicolai Gedda is unusually coarse and totally lacking the sensuous quality essential for Pinkerton. Karajan is the star of his recording, as admitted by Callas biographer Michael Scott, but even he is not in the peak of his powers (contrary to what Mr Scott tells you). Nineteen years later, Karajan’s grasp of the score was much more secure. On the top of all that, the mono sound, though clean enough, is quite incapable of capturing the subtlety and the grandeur of Puccini’s orchestration. ( )
  Waldstein | Sep 24, 2016 |
Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)

Madama Butterfly

Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly) – Mirella Freni
B. F. Pinkerton – Luciano Pavarotti

Suzuki – Christa Ludwig
Sharpless – Robert Kerns
Goro – Michel Sénéchal
Il Bonzo – Mario Rintzler

Wiener Staatsopernchor
Wiener Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan

Recorded: January 1974, Sofiensaal, Vienna.

Decca, 1987. 3 CD. 54.46+54.31+36.23. Libretto (It+Eng+Ger+Fr). Liner notes by William Weaver. Cover art: A girl and her reflection by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806).


So far as I know, Mirella Freni never sang Butterfly on the stage. I guess it was a wise decision. She would have found it hard to cope with the orchestra. But that didn’t prevent Freni from making two fabulous studio recordings, this one and 13 years later with Giuseppe Sinopoli for DG. With a little help from the recording engineers, she is a Butterfly that simply smokes the competition, including the legendary Renatas (Tebaldi with Serafin, 1958; Scotto with Barbirolli, 1966). Freni’s smallish and girlish voice conveys Butterfly’s childish innocence with an almost scary realism. She is equally successful – and that’s a rare thing – with Butterfly’s transformation into a determined young woman towards the end.

The whole cast is outstanding. Pavarotti is in his absolute prime and there is nothing more to be said about him. Just let him unleash that voice and surrender to it. Pinkerton is a role in no need of much subtlety, but it seldom gets such a royal treatment in pure vocal splendour. Even Suzuki, Sharples and Goro, small but not unimportant roles, are superbly sung. Karajan conducts with his customary beauty of sound and dramatic flair. The finale of the opera, which I consider one of the pinnacles of Western music, is unbelievable. With the possible exception of Sinopoli (Freni was really lucky with her conductors!), I’ve never heard another conductor who creates such a shattering aural vision; Serafin and Barbirolli don’t even come close. It helps, of course, that the recorded sound is in the best Decca traditions. The dynamic range is huge – indeed, almost too huge, for Butterfly’s “Con onor muore” is almost inaudible – and so is the sheer visceral excitement of the sound.

This old 1987 edition is the one to have. Handsomely presented, with full libretto and great photos of the singers (a young, beardless and serious Pavarotti is very impressive), it is a must at any price – if Puccini’s music moves you, that is. I conclude with a quote from Mr Weaver’s excellent essay:

Some critics have accused the opera of sentimentality, and if it is sentimentally performed, that charge can seem just. But the heroine is not just a silly, simpering victim of misplaced love; her steadfast character has a steely edge. She can face death as courageously as she faces her family’s rejection and the long, wearing months of loneliness. Butterfly also has wit, as we see in her sly teasing of Yamadori and (if played properly) in her explanation to Sharpless of American divorce laws. ( )
  Waldstein | Sep 23, 2016 |
Recording seems to be good enough. I have enough distance from it though to quibble with the plot line and get all annoyed over Mme. B. and her naive self-sacrifice. Oh, that doesn't mean the opera doesn't make me CRY. I just get annoyed with myself for being sucked into it.
  marfita | Jul 25, 2016 |
Showing 4 of 4
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» Add other authors (75 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Puccini, Giacomoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Giacosa, GiuseppeLibrettistsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Illica, LuigiLibrettistsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Capitanucci, Fabiosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gheorghiu, Angelasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Karajan, Herbert vonsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaufmann, Jonassecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa CeciliaOrchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pappano, AntonioConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scotto, Renatasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shkosa, Enkelejdasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tebaldi, Renatasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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E soffitto e pareti...
Un bel di, vedremo, levarsi unfil di fumo sull'estremo confin del mare.
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Please use this work for all complete sound recordings of Puccini's Madama Butterfly.
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"An American lieutenant marries a beautiful young geisha, to the dismay of her family. Shortly after the wedding the lieutenant departs for America, and his wife bears him a child, alone. Three years later she excitedly awaits his return, only to find to her shock and despair, that he is returning with an American wife."--Container.… (more)

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