PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly
Angela Gheorghiu (Cio-Cio-San); Jonas Kaufmann (B. F. Pinkerton); Enkelijda Shkosa (Suzuke); Fabio Capitanucci (Sharpless); Gregory Bonfatti (Goro); Raymond Aceto (Bonze); St. Cecilia Academy Chorus and Orch/Antonio Pappano, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 64187 (2 disks) (F) TT: 62:04 & 73:08

Arias from Donizetti's La figlia del reggimento, L'elisir d'amore, La Favorite, Linda di Chamounix, and Lucrezia Borgia, Bellini's I puritani, and Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims and Otello
Juan Diago Flórez, tenor; Valenciana Community Orch/Daniel Oren, cond.
DECCA B0012445 (F) TT: 76:50

"An Italian Songbook" - Music of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti.
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; James Levine, piano
DECCA 478 1380 (M) TT: 67:23

WAGNER: Das Rheingold
George London (Wotan); Kirsten Flagstad (Fricka); Claire Watson (Freia); Waldemar Kmentt (Froh); Eberhard Wächter (Donner); Set Svanholm (Loge); Paul Kuen (Mime); Jean Madeira (Erda); Gustav Niedlinger (Alberich); Walter Kreppel (Fasolt); Kurt Böhme (Fafner); Oda Balsborg (Wiglinde); Hetty Plümacher (Wellgunde); Ira Malaniuk (Flosshilde); Vienna Phillharmonic Orch/Sir Georg Solti, cond.
DECCA HERITAGE 4781403 (2 disks) (M) TT: 145:47

STRAUSS: Der Rosenkavalier
Maria Reining (Marschallin); Sena Jurinac (Octavian); Hilde Gueden (Sophie); Ludwig Weber (Baron Ochs); Alfred Poell (Faninal); Antnon Dermota (A Singer); Hilde Rössel-Majdan (Annina); Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Erich Kleiber, cond.
DECCA HERITAGE 478 1396 (3 disks) TT: 197:06

EMI's new Butterfly is outstanding in every way. Angela Gheorghiu was treated as super-star and apparently dominated the recording sessions. She selected her Pinkerton—Jonas Kaufmann instead of her husband, Roberto Alagna who no longer was with EMI—although contractual arrangements seem to occur very often but they didn't here. Actually one can view Gheorgiu and Alagna in the love duet from Butterfly in a video made in 1999 (REVIEW), and it is a knock out performance. Gheorghiu is a splendid Butterfly in every way, although her attempt to sound young in the first act is not totally successful. However, she has the power needed for the big moments, and her singing is flawless. She even manages that climactic high note at the end of Butterfly's entrance, the one that has betrayed many sopranos who try it, including Maria Callas and Renata Scotto. Kaufmann is superb as Pinkerton—one wishes he had more to sing—and the entire cast is outstanding. Conductor Pappano works magic with the fine St. Cecilia Orchestra, and the brisk opening of the first act is exciting indeed. This is a feast for opera lovers. Sonic quality is state-of-the-art. A libretto is supplied, and the two CDs are packaged in a rather bulky cardboard box.

Bel Canto Spectacular is another winner for the phenomenal Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez, featuring music from operas by Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. Two of his performances of La figlia del reggimento are available on DVD, one from 2005 in Bologna (with Patrizia Ciofi) (REVIEW), the other from the Royal Opera House in 2007 (with Natalie Dessay).(REVIEW). Flórez arranged for some of his friends to appear with him on this new recording—Anna Netrebko in a scene from Bellini's I puritani, Patrizia Ciofi in a scene from Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix, Mariusz Kwiecien in an excerpt from the same composer's L'elisir d'amore, and, listed as a "bonus track," Plácido Domingo in a duet from Rossini's Otello. All of the recordings were made in Valencia in November 2007. Flórez is in spectacular form, and texts are provided for everything except the Otello excerpt. Audio is excellent, although the digital recording gives an edge to the tenor's voice that it doesn't have in the theater.

An Italian Songbook, Cecilia Bartoli's 1997 studio recording with James Levine as pianist, is now available at mid-price. She displays her remarkable artistry in music of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. Really quite amazing! Complete texts are provided.

Two historic Decca recordings are now available at budget price. The 1958 Rheingold is one of the most famous complete opera recordings ever made, and rightfully so. It is a fabulous performance, magnificently and imaginatively recorded in early stereo by John Culshaw and his superb staff. Rosenkavalier dates from 1954, just before the stereo era, but offers well-balanced sound, and a performance considered by many to be near-definitive. These are indeed budget reissues, without program notes, just a list of tracks and timings. Both are essential recordings, should you not already own them.

R.E.B. (April 2009)