Madama Butterfly – A Japanese tragedy in two acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica based on David Belasco's play Madame Butterfly itself based on a short story by John Luther Long [sung in Italian]
Cio-Cio San (Madama Butterfly) – Angela Gheorghiu
B. F. Pinkerton – Jonas Kaufmann
Suzuki – Enkelejda Shkosa
Sharpless – Fabio Capitanucci
Goro – Gregory Bonfatti
The Bonze – Raymond Aceto
Kate Pinkerton – Cristina Reale
Prince Yamadori – Roberto Valentini
The Imperial Commissioner – Massimo Simeoli
The Official Registrar – Fabrizio di Bernardo
Yakuside – Massimiliano Tonsini
Butterfly’s mother – Simonetta Pelacchi
The Aunt – Roberta di Nicola
The cousin – Maria Chiara Chizzoni
Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Recorded August 2008 in Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
CD No: EMI 2 64187 2 (2 CDs) Duration: 2 hours 15 minutes Reviewed: September 2009
Madama Butterfly [Gheorghiu, Kaufmann, Pappano]
Reviewed by Alexander Campbell
A new "Madama Butterfly" has to pave its way in a field of strong recordings boasting some of the most famous interpretations of the past, and it can be hard for a newcomer to displace a favourite of the old guard. That the list of past Butterfly assumptions contains names such as Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Victoria de los Angeles, Renata Scotto and Mirella Freni cannot but put pressure on any diva wishing to join this company. In her previous Puccini recordings Angela Gheorghiu has shown that her vocal qualities and her technical control are particularly suited to this composer. Interestingly, she has said that Butterfly is not a role she would essay in a staged production; a shame as this is an impressive performance.
Gheorghiu's voice is extremely beautiful, full of colour with amazing dynamic control. She just about manages to be convincingly naïve and youthful-sounding throughout Act One, but beyond she rightly recognises that the Butterfly of the second half is still only eighteen-years-old, only slightly more mature emotionally. In Act Two her performance takes fire and she manages to chart unerringly Butterfly's gradual disillusionment and desperate response. In the first act the interpretation is less individual than some, but that is fitting in that it brings the later tragedy into greater contrast. One needs to listen more than once to really appreciate this. For recording purposes Gheorghiu sounds to have the heft for the big moments such as 'Un bel di, vedremo', and she handles the mercurial changes of mood in her dealings with Susuki, and then Sharpless, early in Act Two well.
Antionio Pappano and the excellent Santa Cecilia Orchestra offer her strong and sympathetic support with atmospheric, spacious and clear playing. The moments where there is the need to balance off-stage voices with the orchestra are well-handled. Pappano, ever singer-friendly, conducts an exciting and theatrical account of the score, relishing the big Romantic moments without them sounding over-charged or hackneyed, and raising and then maintaining the tension of the second act.
Jonas Kaufmann is interesting casting as Pinkerton. His voice has not the open-throated unmistakeably Italianate sound of Luciano Pavarotti or Carlo Bergonzi, nor their inherent 'smile in the voice'. The necessary Italianata is there in abundance, but he has darker colours in the voice which have the effect of making this Pinkerton seem less arrogant and crass than usual, and ultimately as much of a victim of his own natural, yet unthinking, charm and emotional immaturity. The love-duet is pretty heady stuff and credible as these two young people abandon themselves to love or, in his case, lust, whilst not really understanding each other's true nature. Kaufmann's vocal acting in Pinkerton's reaction to the discovery of a child and the horror of his situation is convincing. This is one of the very individual and intelligent accounts of this role committed to disc.
The part of Suzuki can be a tricky one to pull off; in a performance one can rely much on a baleful presence and body-language to depict the servant's fierce loyalty to her young mistress as well as her wariness of Pinkerton and all he represents, even in Act One where she does not get much to sing. In purely aural terms it is harder to make this impression. Enkelejda Shkosa makes much of the text, blends well with Gheorghiu in the 'Flower Duet', and certainly makes a vital contribution in the short scene where she turns on Goro. Fabio Capitanucci is a sympathetic and young-sounding Sharpless, unwittingly entangled in an impossible situation and not handling it very effectively. He has a warm and characterful baritone, though not a particularly individual one. In the smaller roles there is an effective Goro, and a steely if slightly rough-sounding Bonze from Raymond Aceto. The Kate Pinkerton is unexceptional.
This is an account of "Madama Butterfly" that can hold its head up high in the recorded company that it joins. Fans of the principal singers need not hesitate, and Pappano's conducting on its own terms is a very good reason to hear this recording. Those with strong attachments to older versions may find much to challenge them.