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Reviews: Puccini: Madame Butterfly - Leinsdorf

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Reviews: 4

Review by Russell September 9, 2006 (22 of 22 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This has been one of my very favorite opera recordings for many years now (in fact, it was the recording that got me into opera in a huge way) and I’ve owned it in all formats (LP, open reel, CD, and now SACD). Recorded in 1962, it was always one of RCA’s better-sounding operas—despite the LPs having been one of the first Dynagroove releases—but I daresay that we’ve never been able to hear how marvelous the sound quality was until now. I was severely disappointed with the RBCD Living Stereo release from several years ago; I found it overly hissy, bright, and hard-edged. Thankfully, the new SACD ameliorates all of that, revealing a recording of remarkable transparency, smoothness, fullness, breadth, and depth. Balances between orchestra and voices are more ‘natural’ than you hear in operatic recordings nowadays, i.e., you can readily discern that the voices are placed further back in the soundstage and behind the orchestra. (I listened to the stereo tracks only; the MCH tracks are 3-channel.)

Leontyne Price was at the very peak of her form when she made this recording, and she is meltingly beautiful and heart-wrenching here. Richard Tucker is an ardent and sensitive Pinkerton. Conductor Erich Leinsdorf often gets a bad rap for being ‘too literal’, but here he turns in one of his most passionate and forthright performances. I’m really, really happy that one of my all-time favorite recordings has finally received its sonic due!

BTW, the SACDs are packaged in a slimline case with no libretto. The libretto is supposedly available for download via a special Sony/BMG website (URL and password are given in the booklet), but as of this writing, the website is unavailable. It’s also too bad that the packaging is the least ‘deluxe’ of this recording’s many issues and reissues over the years—pictures from the recording sessions are now gone, for example—but at least the original liner notes have been reprinted.


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Review by Oscar May 20, 2007 (9 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
This is a real winner among the "Living Stereo" series.

The sound stage is excellent, displaying the quality of the work of the sound engeneers of the 50´s and 60´s. The voices and orchestra are set in a spacious accoustic, never too reverberant, so the voices and orchestra can expand ideally in the impassioned climaxes penned down by Puccini.

What can we say about the performance ? Well, it is of Golden-Agen standard, which we look for in vain today. Perhaps Scotto and Freni are more detailed than the portrayal of Leontyne Price here. But the quality, expanse and liquidity of the tone is regal. And the same applies to Richard Tucker, the golden and bonze voice.

The conducting of Erich Leinsdorf, another underrated maestro, is quite ideal, highlighting the exotic touches of the work and the moments of intense drama.

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Review by threerandot April 20, 2008 (6 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Leontyne Price gives a stellar performance in this legendary recording of Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

Although Madama Butterfly has been recorded many times, this is probably one of the very best versions. Erich Leinsdorf proves an excellent dramatist, pushing the limits of the RCA Italiana Orchestra and Chorus. There is an exceptional cast in this recording, with Leontyne Price stealing the show. Price is able to use her voice to paint the raw emotions of Butterfly, her joys and her sorrows. We really sympathize with her plight as we near the end of the performance. Price had an incredible vocal range and absolute control from top to bottom. I don't think you are likely to find a more powerful Butterfly portrayal than hers on record. A staggering achievement.
Richard Tucker is a great Pinkerton, Philip Maero a sympathetic Sharpless with Rosalind Elias as a wonderful Suzuki. Highlights include the remarkable duet between Butterfly and Pinkerton at the end of Act 1 with voices that leap into your living room. Neither of these vocalists shows any strain at all. The "Un bel di" is also remarkable as are the choruses.

Erich Leinsdorf proves he was capable of coaxing masterful performances from his singers and this entire recording never becomes dull or routine. The RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra were a magnificent body of musicians and Leinsdorf paints the drama of this story in very broad strokes. I appreciate this transfer, which has great depth and it is easy to hear singers moving closer, further away or to the left or right to enhance the drama. The recording has a beautifully open and spacious sound and the bass is plentiful when it needs to be, especially when the cannon shot is heard in Act 2. What the engineers in 1962 were capable of is quite remarkable. I do notice some distortion in this recording however, but this is to be expected of a recording of this vintage.

All lovers of Puccini and Madama Butterfly are in for a special treat when they acquire this recording. With an amazing peformance from Lenontyne Price as a girlish and naive Butterfly played to perfection, a strong supporting cast, the powerful RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra and Chorus and this impressive 3 channel recording, we have a winning recording of Butterfly to add to your collection. Very Highly Recommended.

(This review refers to the Multichannel portion of this disc.)

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Review by analogue March 13, 2009 (4 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I wont go into to much detail regarding any description of this famous opera. Many music lovers will be familiar with it by now.

But the sound of this version of Madame Butterfly is breath taking. It is simply magnificent. This SACD TRANSFER FROM THE ORIGINAL TAPES IS ASTOUNDING TO SAY THE LEAST. The reality and sheer presence of the singers, their placement on the stage, the emotion and the's all here is spades. For about twenty dollars you get two sacd's and it's worth every penny. I dare you to turn up the volume more than you would like and close your eyes. It;s a thrilling experience I can tell you.

Highly recommended and a pure joy to listen to.

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