The Evening Standard, 18 February 2009 and La
Norman Lebrecht
Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Angela Gheorghiu (Cio-Cio-San), Jonas Kaufmann (Pinkerton), Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, cond Antonio Pappano
EMI 2 64187 2, 2 CDs
Five years ago this summer, EMI put together what it said was going to be the last-ever studio recording of an opera, a stunning Tristan und Isolde with Nina Stemme and Placido Domingo, conducted by Antonio Pappano. Never is the longest word in the language when it returns to haunt you, and here’s a new regime at EMI, back in studio in Rome, with a Butterfly conducted by the selfsame Pappano.

The orchestra of Santa Cecilia play like ice-creams in the Colosseum sun – meltingly, that is – (slightly different in the Evening Standard "The orchestra of Santa Cecilia play with a silken touch at the sorrowing moments") and the cast is mostly local, with the exception of Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann on whom the project hinges. Gheorghiu is too forceful to make a weak-willed geisha, and Kaufmann matches her with a vocal virility that needs no chemical aids. This is Winslet-Di Caprio casting, a jousting of differences that engages heart and mind regardless of plot inanities. The limelight arias, nicely bedded into the relationship, may not dazzle quite as much on a highlights disc.

There is no obvious Butterfly to recommend on record. Freni-Pavarotti is three decades old and Karajan conducts like a Baedeker tourist guide; Callas, Tebaldi, Scotto and de los Angeles all have shortcomings. This could go down as an historic record – not least because the executive that okayed it has gone and it is now certain that there will never be another studio opera. Or nearly never.

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