The Telegraph, 02 Mar 2009
Rupert Christiansen
Puccini's Madama Butterfly performed by the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia is our classical CD of the week.
Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Angela Gheorghiu (Cio-Cio-San), Jonas Kaufmann (Pinkerton), Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, cond Antonio Pappano
EMI 2 64187 2, 2 CDs
A few years ago the doomsayers were proclaiming that the age of recording opera in the studio was dead, but here it appears to be alive and kicking, in a highly polished performance of Puccini's sublime masterpiece made in Rome over 12 days in the old slow-burn, multi-take style. It is very impressive in many respects, not least because of the ideal clarity and warmth of the sound engineering. Antonio Pappano conducts the Santa Cecilia Orchestra with red-blooded passion, never letting the pace slip but remaining attentive to the finer orchestral detail on the way. Enkelejda Shkosa and Fabio Capitanucci are forthright and sympathetic as those helpless forces of reason, Suzuki and Sharpless. There is a quite superb Pinkerton from Jonas Kaufmann, who captures all the character's phoney Yankee bravado.

But a Madama Butterfly without a Cio-Cio-San is like Hamlet without the Prince, and everything depends on one's response to Angela Gheorghiu in the title role. Her many fans may well be enthralled, but I disliked her interpretation intensely. I wouldn't dispute for a minute that hers is a very beautiful voice but her singing is pitched at one emotional level throughout, without any inner engagement with the text. Whether she's impersonating the innocent teenager of Act 1 or the demented duped wife of Act 2, she remains the grand prima donna. Crucially, she lacks the intangible quality of sincerity – for that, Renata Scotto's recording conducted by Barbirolli remains peerless.

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