Winnipeg Free Press, 2/05/2009
James Manishen
Madama Butterfly
Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann, Orchestra & Chorus of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano

Puccini: Madama Butterfly


It's about Butterfly herself, of course. But from the explosive fugal orchestral introduction on outwards over the superb and perfectly drawn pacing here, Madama Butterfly shows itself to be no less a conductor's opera.

The excellent booklet note delves into the history of the opera and the period of its story. But it also mentions a "steely calculation of purpose" and "heroic dimension" in the opera to mitigate the tear-jerkiness. That's only if realized in the performance and is surely Pappano's blueprint here. Even with Puccini's luminous orchestration, memorable arias, ensembles, choruses and throbbing story, luxury is given its place -- serving rather than ruling the driving sense of purpose felt throughout this reading.

Gheorghiu is a tremendous Butterfly, seamlessly moving from a 15-year-old full of wide-eyed wonder to the cutting heroine of the second act. You feel Pinkerton's ulterior motives in Jonas Kaufmann's baritonal shades, unlike many "pure" tenors in this role, and he sings very well. Enkelejda Shkosa is an imposing Suzuki; Fabio Capitanucci a fine Sharpless, the orchestra is terrific and all other roles satisfy. Even the engineers buy in, supplying a sharply focused recording that isn't allowed to lose itself in the music's deep pile. One of the year's best opera releases. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

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