Metro, March 6, 2009
Warwick Thompson
She's a proper Madama
It’s a regular complaint about Puccini’s Madama Butterfly that it is too shamelessly sympathetic towards the soprano at the expense of the tenor. There’s certainly some truth in that: after all, it’s hard to warm to a hero who leaves his 15-year-old bride in poverty, then returns three years later only to rip their son from has arms. But perhaps a fabulous new big-bucks studio recording from EMI, Madame Butterfly will change a few opinions.

The big-name draw on the set is Angela Gheorghiu in the title role but, superb as she is, it’s tenor Jonas Kaufmann who creates the greatest sense of a fresh interpretation. At first he sings the role of Pinkerton like a young puppy bouncing with high spirits and passion without a thought for the consequences of his actions. It’s irresistibly charming and yet he brings an occasional hint of calculation and steel to his voice in the act one love duet to suggest the ruthlessness that appears more fully in act two. It is complex, rounded, ear opening — and perhaps even enough to make the callow character sympathetic.

And Gheorghiu? Her voice is dazzlingly beautiful and her depth of characterisation as complex as Kaufmann`s: her touch of teenage pomposity when bossing her relatives around is delightful, and her tragic grandeur at the suicidal climax is thrilling. She may not have the boomy, vibrant chest notes of other Butterflies committed to disc but with Antonio Pappano’s conducting – which is sensitive to Gheorghiu’s light voice but satisfyingly lavish and ample as well – the orchestra never drowns out her lower register.

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