The Gra'mophone, Decembe1', 1929
This is an excellent vocal and instrumental combination, equipped at ali points to do justice to a difficult theme. One perceives, from the very start of the busy introductory bars, the requisite sense of life and energy. More vital still, one can feel, as the opening episodes proceed, that peculiar entrain, that unbroken continuity-apart from the changing of records-which can alone be infused by stage artists of experience, ready with and for their" cues," in fact, working together with the same easy realism as though they were actually going through the business. I know none better than Italians, if so good, for introducing this atmospheric element into the operation of recording dramatic music; and i t is another good reason for my argument that gramophonists do well to put up with the foreign language so long as they can gain more of the composer's original colour and hear (as they can here) every syllable of the text. The translation this t ime has not been specially provided, being the one printed in the Ricordi vocal score. Cay. Molajoli evidently has the Milanese traditions of Butterfly in his veins-presto, e sempre pi ii presto I-a game which our own drill-Sargents are also fond of indulging in. But in this instance i t does no harm to the music and enables the opera to be recorded with fewer cuts. These, by the way, I find on compa,ring them with my New York copy of the score, are very nearly identical with those made by Tito di Ricordi, which had probably been approved by Puccini himself.
Those of us who have heard Rosetta Pampanini sing B1.ttterfly at Covent Garden will recognize at once the salient features in her treatment of the part in these records. She is brimful of emotion and intensely dramatic, without ever losing the unexaggerated artistic touch. Only one trifling blemish strikes me at the outset: she does not graduate from a pp to a i f her tender melody (afterwards the main love theme) when she climbs the hill to Pinkerton's dwelling, but starts off at her loudest, a,s i f she had already reached the top. Her friends and relations ought also to enter a shade more delicately; though they are perhaps a l i t t le less assertiverelatively. The only other fault for which I hold SgTa. Pampanini responsible is her failure to rise a full major third to the F natural when she describes her t iny dolls as " the souls of my forefathers." This leaves the key for a moment in doubt. On the other hand, she sings Un bel dt better than any other soprano I have heard since DelStinn; but none of her achievements is really cleverer than her almost startling contrasts of tone as she embodies in turn the joyous, irresponsible geisha-girl of the first act; the anxious yearning of the waiting Butterfly; the defiant pride of the mother in her and Pinkerton's child (happily out of sight and therefore no older or bigger than that he ought to be); and, finally, the tragic disillusioned creature who commits hari-kari. I find all these phases quite admirably depicted.
The marriage scene, with i ts Japanese bells and quaint orchestral touches, comes out more clearly than i t does as a rule on the stage. The love duet at the end of the first act also receives i ts due, for Alessa,ndro Granda has a fairly steady voice of considerable charm, and almost persuades us that Pinkerton means to prove a constant lover. (It would be difficult, moreover, to pick holes in the recording either here or elsewhere in this album.) In the second act the tendency to hurry rather robs the passages between Butterfly and Suzuki of some of their mournful and poignant sweetness. But i t does not affect the subsequent rapid passages in which Sharpless and Yamadori are concerned; there we get broad, sympathetic tone from Gino Vanelli and Aristide Baracchi-good a,rtists both. Throughout the act, which includes the graceful flower duet, the voice of Rosetta Pampanini stands sharply outlined against the others; while i ts dark t imbre and the undercurrent of sobs lend a peculiar presentiment of sorrow to the Japanese tune wherein Butterfly predicts her baby's future destiny. In addition to all this, a distinct success is scored with the highly original finale, where the two women (in the opera) post themselves before the shosi whilst the chorus hum, bouohes jennies, the haunting melody of the Letter theme. Is this, too, pseudo-Japanese ~ I shouldn't wonder.
The second part of Act II-which we generally consider the third act-is preceded by an Intermezzo founded upon some of the main themes of the opera. I t is not an inspired bit of music, however, and in the opera-house is mostly played amid the disturbance caused by people returning to their seats. I t sounds better in this tranquil form, as played by the Milan Symphony Orchestra, and is in a measure indispensable to the completeness of Puccini's design. Not so Mrs. Pinkerton. She has been ruthlessly reduced to a few bars; which is about all she is worth, pOOl' lady! Her appearance upon the scene and her confab with Butterfly have always struck me as a piece of hollow sentiment, utterly superfluous and about as hypocritical as that final cry of Pinkerton's, heard outside just before the curtain falls upon the tableau of his victim's suicide. As i t is given here on a single disc, we get quite enough explanation to render the situation clear. After which the events of the tragedy move swiftly, as they should, to their climax, with all the best or the music always in evidence. Rosetta Pampanini does not spare us quite so many sobs and ejaculations as I should like her to in a gramophone performance, but she is otherwise splendid to the end. The Suzuki, too, improves immensely in this act; she seems to gather confidence as she goes on.
On the whole, therefore, I may congratulate Columbia upon an excellent production of this exacting opera.
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