Puccini: Madama Butterfly Leontyne Price

Cover Puccini: Madama Butterfly

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Album including Album cover Booklet (PDF)

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  • Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924): Act I
  • 1Orchestra Opening01:03
  • 2E soffitto e pareti05:28
  • 3Dovunque al mondo lo Yankee03:54
  • 4Amore o grillo03:26
  • 5Ancora un passo or via (Butterfly's Entrance)03:01
  • 6Gran ventura03:19
  • 7L'Imperial Commissario03:02
  • 8Vieni, amor mio!02:26
  • 9Ieri son salita tutta sola01:50
  • 10Tutti zitti!01:16
  • 11Madama Butterfly!02:08
  • 12Cio-Cio-San!02:20
  • 13Bimba, bimba, non piangere05:25
  • 14Bimba dagli occhi04:01
  • 15Vogliatemi bene (Love Duet)07:11
  • Act II:
  • 16E Izaghi ed Izanami06:29
  • 17Un bel dì04:26
  • 18C'è. Entrate04:03
  • 19Yamadori, ancor le pene04:43
  • 20Ora a noi03:00
  • 21Due cose potrei far02:03
  • 22Ah! M'ha scordata?04:55
  • 23Io scendo al piano03:10
  • 24Il cannone del porto!03:42
  • 25Tutti i fior? (Flower Duet)03:52
  • 26Or vienmi ad adornar04:45
  • 27Humming Chorus02:55
  • Act III:
  • 28Oh eh! Oh eh!07:40
  • 29Già il sole!04:03
  • 30Io so che alle sue pene03:43
  • 31Addio, fiorito asil02:56
  • 32Suzuki, Suzuki!05:47
  • 33Come una mosca02:43
  • 34Con onor muore... (Death of Butterfly)04:44
  • Total Runtime02:09:29

Info for Puccini: Madama Butterfly

'One of the first discs I reviewed for Musicweb about two years ago was a Verdi/Puccini recital with Leontyne Price – her very first actually – recorded in 1960, two years before this complete Butterfly. The disc included the two Butterfly arias, which have been of particular importance to me since they were on an EP I bought very early in my record-collecting career. They became the yardstick for me as far as Madama Butterfly goes. Much water has flown under the bridges of Dalälven since then and many versions of the arias have gathered on my bending record shelves, many of them marvellous readings, interpretatively and vocally, but Price’s voice is for ever associated with this music. I have refreshed my memory by listening again to these tracks. I was curious – and a bit sceptical – as to her ability to give a believable portrait of the teenaged Cio-Cio-San, Price being more at home with dramatic Toscas, Leonoras, Aidas, Carmens and Amelias. Other sopranos of her formidable calibre have made glorious Cio-Cio-Sans, notably Tebaldi, but she never sounded girlish enough, unable obviously to scale down her large instrument. Price does this admirably and time and again I made comments about that in my notes. There are long stretches of wonderful, light-toned singing. While I can hardly imagine Price on stage looking properly girlish, the sonic image is that of a slender little Japanese girl. Of course Puccini has given any Butterfly an impossible task to carry this portrait consistently, since the outlay and orchestration of the set-pieces require a full-toned soprano. In the great love duet that concludes the first act, Price changes gear – switches on the turbo – and gives Tucker’s Pinkerton a run for his money. In a somewhat laboured metaphor she suddenly gains ten years in age. We have to be happy about that since it ensures a really glorious duet. And much of it is still sung with the utmost sensitivity as are her solos in the second act.

Richard Tucker also turns in a reading of great sensitivity, making Pinkerton a much more sympathetic character than he is but also making it easier to understand that Butterfly falls for him. The opening of the love duet proper, Viene la sera (CD1 tr. 13) is mellifluous and affectionate. In this he almost challenges Nicolai Gedda on the Callas recording. Tucker however has more power and ardour than the young Gedda could muster and so makes the duet a more even affair than the Gedda-Callas, where the soprano tends to overshadow the tenor. The best Butterfly, to my mind, is still Victoria de los Angeles and the matching of voices is even more perfect there. Jussi Björling, recorded less than a year before his untimely death at 49, and already marked by his illness, is less ardent and glowing than he was three years earlier on that legendary Bohème with de los Angeles. Anyway Tucker is here just as good as on the Bohème with Moffo recently enthusiastically welcomed by me (review) and avoids sentimentalizing the music.

This opera is so much dominated by its heroine that even Pinkerton is more or less a secondary character, but to make it a success a star tenor is needed for the first act. The other characters can almost be seen as comprimarios but any wise producer still casts them with good singers and in the main that is the case here too. The weakest member is Philip Maero as Sharpless. He has a big enough voice but is unsubtle and grey-toned. He improves temporarily in the second act and makes more of a character of the Consul. However he completely misses the opportunity to make something memorable of Io so che alle sue pene (CD2 tr. 13), a “dream phrase” for a sonorous and sweet-toned baritone. The young Robert Kerns here sings Prince Yamadori with darkish tone and confidence. A dozen years later he was upgraded to Sharpless on Karajan’s famous Butterfly with Freni and Pavarotti. In this set he could have been entrusted the part even here. Rosalind Elias is luxury casting as Suzuki. As the marriage broker Goro, Piero de Palma, the king of comprimario tenors, delivers another sharply-etched portrait.

So far I have said nothing about the conducting. This may well to some listeners be the crucial deciding factor. Erich Leinsdorf, once assistant to Toscanini, has never been known as a heart-on-the-sleeve conductor, rather coldly analytical and often a stickler for fastish tempos. The opening orchestral introduction is here unusually aggressive, almost forbidding. The actual sound of the orchestra is raw and unsubtle, making me initially suspect that the recording is to blame. As it turns out the general sound picture is of RCA Victor’s usual well-defined but not particularly warm nature. The three-channel SACD mode enhances the analytical character of the reading. Since 1954 RCA had been recording at the Rome Opera House with the house orchestra. The present production marked the company’s move to their newly built RCA Italiana Studios and their own opera orchestra. Many glorious recordings were to be made there during the years to come. Producer Richard Mohr gives vivid testimony to the recording procedure which also included searching out the best available percussion instruments to give full weight to Puccini’s delicate oriental instrumentation. The Japanese bells, to mention just one detail, were nowhere to be found in Europe and were borrowed from the Metropolitan Opera. They turned out to be a set made specially for the first Butterfly performance there in 1907. These and lots of other details are vividly realised in this recording. They create an authentic atmosphere.

Those wanting most of all surging rubatos and string tone dripping with treacle will probably be disappointed. Those who, like me, feel that Puccini in places over-eggs the cake with icing, will feel gratitude to Leinsdorf for his more objective view. He is often enough sensitive to nuances and the need of the singers to expand a phrase but in general he keeps the proceedings on a tight rein.

The booklet has, besides Richard Mohr’s notes on the recording, an essay on “The Failure and Success of Butterfly” by George R. Marek. There’s also a synopsis while the libretto can be downloaded from Sony BMG’s website.

For the most individual reading of the title role, Maria Callas is forever unsurpassed. For the loveliest Cio-Cio-San Victoria de los Angeles is hard to beat. For an overwhelming total experience with glowing Vienna Philharmonic strings Karajan’s remake with Freni and Pavarotti is hors concours. However with Leontyne Price and Richard Tucker in top form and with Leinsdorf’s efficient and unsentimental conducting, the present version, now at budget price, is a worthy addition to anyone’s collection of Butterflies.“ (Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International)

Leontyne Price, soprano (Madama Butterfly / Cio-Cio-San)
Rosalind Elias, mezzo-soprano (Suzuki / Cio-Cio-San’s servant)
Richard Tucker, tenor (B.F. Pinkerton, Lieutenant in the United States Navy)
Anna di Stasio, mezzo-soprano (Kate Pinkerton, his American wife)
Philip Maero, baritone (Sharpless, United States Consul at Nagasaki)
Piero de Palma, tenor (Goro, a marriage broker)
Robert Kerns, baritone (Prince Yamadori, suitor for Cio-Cio-San)
Virgilio Carbonari, bass (The Bonze, Cio-Cio-San’s uncle)
Arturo La Porta, baritone (Imperial Commissioner)
Mario Rinaudo, bass (The Registrar)
Leo Pudis, bass (Yakuside, the uncle)
Fernanda Cadoni, mezzo-soprano (Mother of Cio-Cio-San)
Gianna Lollini, soprano (The Aunt)
Silvia Bertona, soprano (The Cousin)
RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Erich Leinsdorf, conductor

Recorded from 10–20 July 1962, RCA Italiana Studios, Rome

Digitally remastered

Leontyne Price
Mary Violet Leontyne Price was born February 10, 1927, and raised in the colored section of Laurel, Mississippi. Her mother, Kate, was a midwife, and her father, James, worked in a sawmill. She was nurtured under the watchful eye of the community, which extended even to her aunt's employers, The Chisholms, a family who lived in a white, affluent section of town. Her musical talents were encouraged, and her voice frequently was heard at area social events.

Price received a scholarship to attend Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio. She began as a music education major, but she completed her studies there in voice. With the assistance of Paul Robeson and the school's administration, in addition to the financial backing of the Chisholm family, Price next went to Juilliard.

While attending Juilliard, she appeared in revivals of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and Four Saints in Three Acts, by Virgil Thomson. The Porgy and Bess cast toured the United States and Europe with baritone William Warfield and Price singing the title roles. The two singers married in 1952, but the pressures of their separate careers eventually forced them to part.

Price was engaged to sing the lead for the National Broadcasting Company's production of Puccini's Tosca in 1955. There were strenuous objections, and some cancellations, from local affiliates; nonetheless, her dramatic portrayal and vocal performance in this historic broadcast were a critical success.

Other televised operatic roles soon followed. Then, in 1957, Price sang Verdi's Aida for the first time. She identified strongly with the character, and her success led her to Vienna to sing for conductor Herbert von Karajan and, in 1960, to the stage of La Scala.

In January, 1961, she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera as Leonora in Verdi's Il Trovatore. Her performance was a success not only to the audience who witnessed it, but to the New York critics as well. She was signed for additional roles there and at other houses around the world. By the mid 1960's, her reputation had grown to the extent that she was offered the lead in the Samuel Barber opera commissioned especially for the opening of the Met's new facilities at Lincoln Center. The opening performance of Antony and Cleopatra in 1966, though marred by the extremes taken in costuming and staging, solidified Price's place as one of the world's great divas.

In the years that followed, Price's notoriety allowed her the freedom to select roles she wanted, often taking rests between runs. She increased the number of recitals in the 1970's and made several operatic and concert recordings, earning 18 Grammy awards over the years. Price retired from the opera stage at the Met in 1985 with her signature role, Aida. This live telecast was viewed by millions, and her performance of the aria, "O Patria Mia," was the top ranked "Great Moments at the Met: Viewer's Choice" selection.

Leontyne Price received many honorary degrees as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1965), the Kennedy Center Honors (1980), and the National Medal of Arts (1985). Her many recordings earned nineteen Grammy Awards, and she received a special Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. For her performance on Live From Lincoln Center, Leontyne Price, Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic, Price received the 1982 Emmy award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program.

Price has been described as a "lirico-spinto" soprano with a 3-1/2 octave range. Her rock-solid vocal technique and purity and her dramatic flair have been combined to create a mix suitable both for the opera and concert stage.

Booklet for Puccini: Madama Butterfly

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