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Michael Tanner
BBC Music Magazine, December 2008


De los Angeles’s first recording of Butterfly shows her in fabulous form, and Di Stefano is a marvellous Pinkerton.

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, October 2008

‘When I was twenty-one, it was a very good year.’ The line comes from Frank Sinatra’s concept album ‘September of my years’ but adding a decade to the age it could just as well have been sung by Victoria de los Angeles. 1954, when this Madama Butterfly was recorded, was a very good year for her and it is hard to imagine the role more lovingly performed. Not only is the beauty of the voice so striking but the whole personification is so endearing. For once we also encounter a Cio-Cio-San who might be fifteen—as she should be in the first act—with the possible exception of Toti Dal Monte, who recorded the role, also in Rome, in 1939 with Beniamino Gigli as Pinkerton. Just listen to her first entrance together with the chorus (CD 1 tr. 4) or her solo Ieri son salita (a couple of minutes into CD 1 tr.7). No one, to my mind, has ever been so lovely, not even Mirella Freni on the strongly recommendable Decca recording with Karajan. She is superb in the long duet that ends act I and, when three years older in act II, Un bel di vedremo is unsurpassed on records. Her Flower Duet with Suzuki is also lovely, even though it is marred by some distortion, and the finale goes directly to the heart. She re-recorded the opera in stereo five years later with Björling as Pinkerton but it is this first version that is the supreme achievement.

And she is not the only reason to acquire the set. 1954 was a very good year also for Giuseppe Di Stefano. I have listened to a lot of him lately, both in isolated arias and complete recordings and he has often been very good but here he surpasses himself. He is vital and expressive, as always, and he is light and warm-toned. In fact I fully understand why poor Cio-Cio-San gets trapped. He can’t quite erase the memory of Bergonzi in the act I finale on either of his recordings—with Tebaldi/Serafin and Scotto/Barbirolli—but he runs him fairly close. Tito Gobbi as Sharpless is luxury casting but he manages to make a personality of this stuffed shirt and Anna Maria Canali is an excellent Suzuki. Renato Ercolani is a vivid and expressive Goro and the rest of the cast is fully up to the requirements.

A further asset is the vital conducting by Gianandrea Gavazzeni in his first opera recording. There is rhythmic resilience in his reading and he is far preferable to the dull Santini on Los Angeles’s later recording. … the present set, especially at its super budget price, should also be in every decent Puccini collection. Good notes by Malcolm Walker and a very detailed synopsis by Keith Anderson.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2008

First issued in 1955 with Victoria de los Angeles and Giuseppe Di Stefano in the leading roles, it has become the most popular Madama Butterfly on disc.

That was in spite of the fact that the much hyped Maria Callas recording was released only a few months later. It was a performance that concentrated on the lyric rather than dramatic aspects of the score, Victoria de los Angeles one of the few singers who have successfully used a girlish voice to capture the youth and innocence of the character. Such moments as the love duet that concludes the first act, and the happy opening to the second act, are captured with uncommon beauty. Di Stefano - who was in remarkably fine form - was vocally too endearing to be the villain of the piece, but a joy to listen to and blending perfectly with his Butterfly. Surprisingly the downside is Tito Gobbi who never seems to become involved, his Sharpless lacking any sign of compassion towards Butterfly, and even more unexpected are moments of poor intonation. The remaining roles are serviceable rather than outstanding, the recording really hanging around this beautifully sung Butterfly, the eventual suicide made all the more poignant by the innocence crafted by de los Angeles. She does, of course, have to open up her voice for the demands of Un bel di vedremo, and for her anger in the second act scene with Goro. Otherwise she manages to keep within character. I don’t suppose we will ever be so deeply moved than when this Butterfly realises Pinkerton has remarried. Under the direction of Gianandrea Gavazzeni the Rome Opera House Orchestra were as good as I have ever heard them, his tempos unhurried and never exaggerate the dramatic passages. In a couple of loud moments there was distortion on the original discs which have to remain, but otherwise the sound belies its age in an exemplary transfer. I thought Naxos might have risked a very long first disc to accommodate the second act unbroken, but sadly it was not to be.

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