Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
The first complete studio recording of Madama Butterfly wasmade in 1922 in London using the acoustic recording process and was sung inEnglish featuring the New Zealand soprano Rosina Buckman and Welsh tenor TudorDavies in the two principal r?â??les. There followed two versions in the originallanguage, both recorded in Milan, the first with Rosetta Pampanini in 1928,quickly followed by a second with the Irish-born soprano Margaret Sheridan.Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, a fourth version was made inRome in July 1939 with Toti Dal Monte (a somewhat surprising choice for asinger who was regarded as the principal coloratura soprano of her time) andBeniamino Gigli (Naxos 8.110183-4).
The first post-war recording of the opera was made inAmerica in 1949 with soloists of the Metropolitan Opera and included EleanorSteber and Richard Tucker in the main r?â??les. A little known and short-livedVienna-made recording with Daniza Ititsch, a Met favourite, followed in 1951,the year in which Renata Tebaldi made the first of her two recordings.
Recorded in July 1951, the same month in which La Boh?â?¿me(Naxos 8.110252-3) was also made, the venue used was that of the AccademiaNazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. The hall in question was long and narrowbut with a high ceiling plus a balcony which contained seats. The control roomwas conveniently situated on the same ground floor level as the hall. It provedperfectly suited to the needs of mono recording at that time.
Renata Tebaldi (b.1922) studied at the Boito Conservatorioin Parma, before making her debut as Elena in Mefistofele at Rovigo in 1944.She sang for Toscanini at the opening concert at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan,in 1946. Later that season she was engaged as Eva in Meistersinger and Mim?â?¼ in
La Boh?â?¿me. Her first appearance outside Italy was in Lisbonin 1949 and the following year Tebaldi made her London debut as Desdemona inOtello when the La Scala Company appeared at Covent Garden. Her internationalintroduction came through her first American engagement as Aida in SanFrancisco in 1950, soon followed by three seasons in Rio de Janeiro. TheItalian soprano first sang at the Metropolitan in New York in 1955, a house shewould grace for seventeen further seasons before retiring from the stage in1973 and the concert hall three years later. Tebaldi appeared regularly at theVienna State Opera and also sang in Chicago and Japan. As the most significantItalian lirico spinto soprano during her career, she also recordedprolifically. At the time of this recording Tebaldi had not sung the r?â??le ofButterfly on the stage but in no way is this evident from her wholeheartedinterpretation. The creamy richness of her tone and the exquisiteness of hereffortlessly floated pianissimi are indeed most captivating. Possibly she doesnot convey the schoolgirl bride but this is forgotten when her singing is sowell moulded and secure. She 'rides' the final scene most impressively, themusic for which is the most demanding Puccini wrote for the soprano voice otherthan that for Turandot.
Giuseppe Campora (b.1923) studied in Genoa and Milan beforehis debut in 1949 as Rodolfo in La Boh?â?¿me. His first La Scala appearance was asBoris in Rocca's L'uragano, followed by Rodolfo, Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreurand Orombello in Beatrice di Tenda. The Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires securedhis services in 1952 and Campora made regular appearances at the Metropolitanin New York between 1955 and 1965. He sang all the principal tenor r?â??les widelythroughout Italy. In his later career he diversified into operetta. Campora'sPinkerton is sweetly sung and unaffected in manner with his easy, ringing upperregister a decided plus.
The baritone Giovanni Inghilleri (1894-1959) was virtuallyin the twilight of his career when he recorded the r?â??le of the Consul Sharplessbut his portrayal of the r?â??le is both kindly and caring. During the inter-waryears he had enjoyed a considerable career in both America and Europe, alsorecording the r?â??le of Amonasro in Aida in 1928. Inghilleri also sang in the1951 recording of La Boh?â?¿me with Tebaldi referred to above.
The role of Butterfly's faithful servant Suzuki wasentrusted to the American mezzo-soprano Nell Rankin (b.1926) from Montgomery,Alabama. She had studied in nearby Birmingham and later New York before joiningZurich Opera in 1949. She later sang at La Scala and at the Vienna State Opera.Her Metropolitan debut was in 1951 where she appeared regularly for the nexttwenty years. Her repertoire included Ortrud in Lohengrin, Gutrune in the Ringand Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera. Her London debut was as Carmen, a r?â??lerepeated two years later in San Francisco. She also sang Cassandra in LesTroyens at La Scala in 1960. Rankin impressed more with her fullness of toneand generous phrasing than vitality of character. Her few recordings includedthe first ever of Vaughan Williams' Five Tudor Portraits.
In the smaller r?â??les, Goro is sung by Piero di Palma(b.1916), an artist who established himself to be the most notable and significantsecond tenor and comprimario of the past fifty years. A greatly admired artistin the principal Italian centres, he was always tasteful and most musical inall his work. Di Palma also took part in almost fifty complete recordings. TheBonze is sung by Fernando Corena (1916-1984), a Swiss bass, born of a Turkishfather and Italian mother in Geneva. After making his debut in 1947 as Varlaamin Boris Godunov, his first Metropolitan Opera engagement was in 1954 where hewould sing until 1978. Corena was a fine linguist and a witty comedian in buffor?â??les. His fellow buffo of an earlier generation, Melchiorre Luise (1899-1967)sings the r?â??le of Prince Yamadori. Originally a baritone, he soon changed to abass, singing at La Scala from 1938 to 1943 and from 1951 until the early1960s. Luise also appeared in Rome and Florence in addition to the MetropolitanOpera in New York (1947-50) and Covent Garden.
The conductor Alberto Erede (1908-2001) was well known inboth Italy and Britain, and had conducted at Glyndebourne in 1938-39. He wasmusical director of the short-lived but most enterprising New London OperaCompany at the Cambridge Theatre in the late 1940s. He was then hired by theMetropolitan Opera in New York between 1950 and 1954 and became Generalmusikdirektorat the Deutsche Opera am Rhein from 1958 to 1962. Erede also conductedLohengrin at Bayreuth in 1968. He recorded extensively, both complete operasand as accompanist to singers and instrumentalists. He was much admired for hisexcellent training of young singers and was a great believer in ensemble work.His conducting of Butterfly is both attentive and sensitive but robust anddramatic where needed.
The period is the present (1904). The scene is outside asmall Japanese house, set on a hill overlooking the port of Nagasaki. There isa terrace and a garden, and, in the distance below, the harbour and city.
 Theorchestra introduces Act I with a busy opening theme, followed by a secondtheme of more overtly Japanese character. As the curtain rises, the obsequiousmarriage-broker Goro is seen showing Pinkerton the delights of the little houseon the hill, and demonstrating the use of the partitions that screen one roomfrom another. Pinkerton is surprised at