- Madama Butterfly (Madame Butterfly), opera
EMI's 1955 recording of "Madama Butterfly" features three of the brightest stars of the era, Maria Callas, Nicolai Gedda, and Herbert von Karajan. Callas hadn't yet sung Cio-Cio-San on-stage when she made this recording, but she fully inhabits the role and brings penetrating insight to it. She's completely convincing as an adolescent, a remarkable feat in this role, which requires a voice of considerable heft. Callas beautifully captures Butterfly's vulnerability and sensitivity with an astonishingly youthful-sounding vocal freshness, and she's compellingly poignant as Butterfly's dilemma becomes clear to her. The only caveat about her performance is the intonation and purity of her sustained notes above the staff; several of them are painfully strident. Gedda is thoroughly caddish as Pinkerton, and he sings with passion, but his voice shows some strain in the upper register. Mario Borriello is a resonant, compassionate Sharpless, and Lucia Danieli sings with warmth and security as Suzuki. Karajan, leading the Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, has a sure grasp of the score's dramatic contour and makes this a highly charged reading. The orchestral playing is of the highest order. The recorded sound is clear and balance is good, but it shows its vintage; it's somewhat cramped and lacks depth.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Well, here's another jewel in the Callas necklace. The year she recorded this in the studio she actually performed the role in Chicago with Jussi Bjoerling as Pinkerton. This performance is Callas' complete statement on Butterfly, and what a way to go! From the beginning she sings in that ''little girl'' voice that John Ardoin mentioned in his book, and here it is played like a trump card. In the opening scene, her tone is full of warmth and vulnerability, the most magical moments of course, being the simple ones: ''Badate a me, attenti orsu, uno, due, tre, su tutti giu'' would melt the heart of a madman. There is very little overtone but joy and love and anticipation are all there. She is a child unaware of the darkness around her or the tragedy that is unfolding. It is beautiful and painful to hear at the same time. There is already a great actress at work. What magic she wove on stage, I'll never know, but I have a very good hunch. The love duet is wonderful, both singers giving everything in voice and heart, one of the best on record. The rest of course, is Callas history. There are fabulous touches of her vocal magic all through this performance. She still uses the little girl voice at various times in the opera, except in the great arias, but near the end when she calls out for Suzuki, only to discover Kate Pinkerton in her house, you can feel her heart stopping. The final scene is simply the very, very best performance ever recorded. Nuff said. Buy this one.