"This justly legendary recording derives its main strength from the powerful and successful collaboration of its two principals, Jussi Björling and Victoria de los Angeles. The love duet with which act one concludes, one of the most gorgeous of Puccini's, by itself makes the acquisition of this album an imperative for lovers of this popular warhorse. De los Angeles was caught here at the very peak of her powers, a voice suited to this rôle as perhaps no other in her generation, save for perhaps Tebaldi's. A decade later Freni recorded her famous protrayal for Decca, in a luxury production with Herbert von Karajan conducting that is also a much favoured version, but De los Angeles' remains special even after almost 45 years of having been recorded. I'm no worshipper of past decades' performances for their own sake as many people nowadays appear to be, but I'd venture to say there is no singer today capable of singing Butterfly like this, full of subtleties and nuances, totally appropriating the rôle for herself like Callas did with Norma or Tosca. Björling's voice, his vocals fully open and ringing tone, italianate as not even that of many an italian singer of his generation was, was also caught in aplendid form, although slightly after his prime years. But this is no problem, as it also isn't in the more or less contemporaneously taped Bohème also with Victoria de los Angeles and also available from EMI, since the combination of both singers' talents, understanding of the works in question and undeniable sense of a style now somewhat out of fashion (but how effective it was!) worked wonders. The supporting rôles are taken by what I take to be Rome Opera regulars of the time, a time when singers still belonged to "the Company of xyz Opera House" instead of jetting about from one gig to another; the importance in coherence of style of such (now largely abbandoned) practice cannot be ignored. Among these the Sharpless, Mario Sereni, a much underrated singer with a superior voice that had the misfortune of sharing these baritone rôles in italian theatres with competitors like Gobbi or Bastianini, or abroad with other international singers like Cornell McNeil who, Björling-style, owned an idiomatic, wholly italian-sounding voice. But he is a very sympathetic Sharpless, wholly idiomatic; pay especial attention to his act one duet with Björling, introduced by (the then fairly novel to European ears, at least) "The Star Spangled Banner", or to his conversation with Cio-Cio-San in the following act. The orchestra is less subtle or accomplished than the Scala orchestra featured in other recordings made in Italy at the time, or from the big-leaguers nowadays normallly used, but finds in Santini an effective conductor; he may not be as sensous or detailist as Karajan would be later on for Freni, but a successful exponent of the score none the less, fully experienced from working the score countless times in the orchestra pit.I got acquainted with this recording some four decades ago, when as a child I heard it ringing out of my father's stereo system, in its open-reel incarnation as Angel Records' ZC 3604. As I still own that open-reel release and a working tape deck, I went back to it for sound comparison purposes. And I must report that unfortunately, the (uncredited) digital remastering from the EMI studios is audibly inferior to those 40 year old tapes, in spite of the latter's hiss. EMI's engineers have been remarkably successful in most of their reissues of old, analogue material, stereo or mono, but in this case they were certainly not; the Victor Olof production was always dry-sounding but the hiss removal process for this CD reissue introduced a somewhat harshness of tone not at all present in my tapes.But don't let this caveat deter you from this album, mind you. The musical value of the album,a Butterfly really to be treasured, amply compensates."
De los Angeles a beautiful Butterfly
Mike Leone | Houston, TX, United States | 05/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I owned the highlights LP of this recording many years ago. I had never heard the complete recording before I bought this copy, and I am very happy with it.
Certain recorded Butterflys are considered to be definitive, with Toti dal Monte, Maria Callas and Renata Scotto leading the pack. Because of the strong competition, this 1959 recording does not automatically come to mind as a classic Butterfly performance. That is too bad because Victoria de los Angeles, in her second recording of the opera, is wonderfully natural in the title role. While she may not plumb the depths of the part in the way that some other sopranos have, her voice, while still carrying the drama and Butterfly's pathos, sounds more youthful than that of many of her competitors.
I think this was Jussi Bjoerling's last complete opera recording; it may well be one of his best. His aristocratic style is just as valid as the more impetuous interpretation of Giuseppe di Stefano, de los Angeles' first recorded Pinkerton. I only know Miriam Pirazzini, the Suzuki, from her scene-chewing recording of the very different role of Azucena on the old Cetra Trovatore. She's equally effective in this much less showy part. Mario Sereni was a wonderfully reliable Italian baritone who never quite escaped the shadow of the big baritone stars of the time. He's fine in the rather thankless part of Sharpless. The conductor is the underappreciated Gabriele Santini, who gives the singers time and space to make their points.
Still, the opera belongs to the soprano. Big fans of the many sopranos who have left souvenirs of this part will understandably want their recordings. And those looking for a good overall recording of Puccini's favorite of all his operas couldn't do much better than this one. Highly recommended. "
Five stars IF this is the Santini version!
Rachel Howard | ocklawaha, Florida United States | 10/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This page is confusing: the cover photo says Santini conducts this, while the info below says Conca conducted it. I have no experience whatsoever with the Conca recording, but the Santini performance is stunning. All the principles and the comprimarios are in fine voice, with each performer digging deeply into the characters. The Santini performance is Madama Butterfly in a grand tradition, and Jussi Bjorling managed to spoil me for every other Pinkerton I've ever heard, except for Caruso. From what I've heard of the Bergonzi versions, he does a fine job. If you prefer Bergonzi's voice, then go for it. If you love this opera and love GRAND opera, the Santini version is hard to beat.
To be fair, the Conca version may beat them all: I just haven't heard it!"
The Cultural Observer | 02/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Victoria de los Angeles was one of bel canto's greatest gems. She had the control of an excellent instrument that she trained in the bel canto style and was also able to declaim the lines greatly and dramatically. Hers was a great Butterfly that could easily be called a Recording of the Century, for she gave Butterfly a certain truth that only a few sopranos can truly do. Her voice was captured at its best, and her partner tenor, Jussi Bjoerling, was amazing as well. How fortunate we are to have such a legendary Madama Butterfly on record. Buy it before Angel discontinues its production of this stellar opera."
De Los Angeles & Bjorling: musical, mature & artistic
The Cultural Observer | 12/04/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It has been noted that Caruso's wife remarked that of all the tenors of that time, only Bjorling's voice came closest to her husband's. If you find that you value the beauty of the voice and the music skills of the artist over other, overly dramatic and "engineered" recordings of Madame Butterfly, then De Los Angeles & Bjorling's performance will become one of your very favorites. At the very least, this Butterfly remains a historic treasure for the fans of two of the greatest singers in all opera, who could effectively perform not only in their native tongues, but equally, in the original language of the composition. (P.S. La Boheme is another of their great ones, together.)"