PUCCINI:  Madama Butterfly
Toti Dal Monte (Madama Butterfly); Beniamino Gigli (B. F. Pinkerton); Vittoria Palombini (Suzuki); Mario Basiola (Sharpless); Adelio Zagonara (Goro);  Gino Conti (Prince Yamadori); Ernesto Dominici (The Bonze); Rome Opera House Chorus and Orchestra/Oliviero de Fabritiis, cond. (rec. July 1939).Toti Dal Monte sings music of Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, Mascagni, Fambre-Bianchini, Bianchini and Sadero
NAXOS 8.110183/84 2 CDs (B) (ADD)  TT:  76:25 & 77:04
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VERDI:  La forza del destino
Maria Caniglia (Leonora); Galliano Masini (Don Alvaro); Carlo Tagliabue (Don Carlo); Tancredi Pasero (Padre Guardiano); Ebe Stigniani (Preziosilla); Saturno Meletti (Fra Melitone); Ernesto Dominici (Il marchese di Calatrava/Un alcade & Un chirurgo); Liano Avagadro (Mastro Trabuco); Turin Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of the Italian Broadcasting Authority/Gino Marinuzzi, cond.
NAXOS 8.110206/07 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT:  75:00 & 78:38
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Two more treasures in the Naxos Great Opera Recordings series, immaculately transferred by Ward Marston "using a variety of stylus sizes for optimum reproduction," Butterfly from six sets of mint condition RCA Victor shellac pressings, Forza from two sets of original Italian Cetra pressings.  Marston has produced a miracle of restoration—voices virtually leap from the grooves with remarkable fidelity and presence in spite of age of the originals (Butterfly was recorded July 1939, Forza May 1941). The performances are very special.  Toti Dal Monti, a favorite soprano of Toscanini, was famous for her Butterfly and it's easy to understand why.  This is one of the most realistic, powerful interpretations you'll hea—she does indeed sound like a teenage girl at the beginning with her characterization growing appropriately darker as the tragedy continues culminating in a powerful death scene.  She opts not to take the optional D-flat at the end of Butterfly's entrance, although surely she could have easily sung it. Her voice perhaps didn't record too well; Dal Monti has a very distinctive sound some may find rather shrill. Beniamino Gigli is excellent as Pinkerton (although his final cries of ""Butterfly, Butterfly" are pronounced Butterfly-eee, Butterfly-eee, rather odd to say the least. Oliviero de Fabritiis's conducting could not be bettered.  CD II is filled out with Dal Monti's 1928-1941 recordings of arias by Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi and Mascagni as well as songs of Fambre, Bianchini and Sadero's Amuri, Amuri (no match for Rosa Ponselle's 1954 recording). 

This is the first complete recorded Forza (except for standard cuts made during the era), issued on Cetra on thirty-five 78rpm sides, later on three poorly-mastered LPs.  It's a rather extraordinary cast, the only complete opera recording by Sicilian-born conductor, Gino Marinuzzi, who, along with Antonio Guarnieri and Victor de Sabata, led La Scala after Arturo Toscanini's departure.  It's a dynamic reading by any standards; it's unfortunate this conductor didn't record more. Maria Caniglia is a vivid Leonora, with a tendency to be a bit under pitch; she has uniformly strong co-stars. Having owned the original LP issue of this performance, I am amazed at the way it sounds in this Marston transfer.

Both of these sets have near-maximum playing time. Neither has a libretto, just a quite detailed account of the action. Opera lovers surely will wish to own these important fine sets—particularly at their budget price.

R.E.B.  (July 2002)