Puccini Madama Butterfly
Butterfly was not an obvious role for Tebaldi: girlish charm and vulnerable innocence were not her strong suits; she sometimes replaces them with a slightly irritating shrill laugh and by ‘expressively’ distorting the melodic line. Yet she no less often conscientiously fines down her magnificent voice to a genuine intimacy of expression (the letter-reading scene with Sharpless is touching) and there are few accounts of the role that are more securely, more gloriously sung, and with a voice that seems without a flaw throughout its register. So many more convincingly childlike Butterflys simply have no lower notes to speak of, or are incapable of the cruelly demanding outburst of “Tu, tu, piccolo Iddio”, that it is splendid to hear in the role a voice that you know will not be found wanting at any point. And few Butterflys have been more ardently and sympathetically partnered than by Bergonzi, here in his finest voice: the love duet is superbly done.
Cossotto is a fine Suzuki, but Sordello’s Sharpless is disappointing, the voice rather shallow, the acting minimal. Serafin’s obvious affection for the score leads him into leisured tempos at times, and to a lack of impact: the loud chord that follows Sharpless’s question about what Butterfly would do if Pinkerton never came back should be as brutal as a blow in the face; here it hardly registers. But the early stereo recording is excellent and all the minor parts are well taken. At bargain price this would still be a contender among the top half-dozen or so recordings of the opera if Decca had not spoiled the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar by not providing a libretto. This is despicable parsimony, and unless collectors refuse to buy libretto-less recordings the habit will spread.'