Giacomo Puccini is a composer that I sometimes am reluctant to admit that I have an addiction to in
weak moments of emotional turmoil. When I need an overwhelming wash of gorgeous melody bellowed out by a great dramatic soprano and tenor I turn to Turandot. For blood and guts balls to the walls melodrama I turn to Tosca and Karajan and Leontyne!
And when I am overwhelmed by Weltschmerz and an endless icy winter and a recalcitrant lover I turn to
Madama Butterfly. This opera is one of my Release operas. It unplugs the dammed up emotions I have been sitting on for long periods of time. A little gin and Cio Cio San does the trick. The next day I am
bright as a button.
Puccini had that gift, the Human gift, of unlocking emotions through unbridled heart on the sleeve melody coupled with an unerring sense of what the human heart does to us and it. Jealousy, Soul's yearning, rage and revenge are his specialities.
I do not know of a bad recording of this great masterpiece. I began my collection with the old Leinsdorf set with Anna Moffo, splendid, on old scratchy RCA vinyls. I lived with that for a couple of decades, having moved along to Wagner, Strauss and Verdi in the interim, shunning Puccini as Vulgar ostentation.
Now, in my 30s, a terrible decade for angst, I returned to Puccini just to see. I had heard, and seen, Karajan's version with Freni and Pavarotti, very fine but Pavarotti was to hammy for me. I like a little more verisimilitude even in Italian tenors, though the voice is unparalleled in beauty. I didn't buy that set however, I waited, until Sinopoli, again with Freni. His is a shattering performance, Freni not as fresh in voice as for HvK but even more inside the tragedy of Cio Cio San's unrequited love.
Then I put Butterfly away again until, now in LATE middle age. I had heard of this Met recording with Steber and Tucker but was not interested in what I thought would be inferior sound, probably boxy and one-dimensional. I was wrong. The sound is great, for mono, and amazing for a 1949. It is immediate and natural and very clear.
So no problems with the technical side of things on this wonderful Sony product.
What makes this Butterfly indispensable, in fact the ONLY necessary recording of this work are Max Rudolf's 'right' conducting and Eleanor Steber's subtle but ever-growing and powerful Cio Cio San.
And if Jean Madeira (Suzuki) had been born a dramatic soprano instead of a dramatic contralto she would have been a superstar. She sings like one here in what is usually a pretty thankless role.
If you don't know this recording and you love Madama Butterfly you will have to have this in the collection. I have missed years of great pleasure by not having it in my own.
Superlatives escape me at this point.