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on 13 May 2001
This Butterfly cancels out many others...except for Callas and Scotto who could give the full rich drama of this piece on stage and in the studio(Scotto has pirated performances that are spectacular). Although Freni never sang Butterfly in the opera house she makes such a great figure of Butterfly on disc that one can only imagine on stage what could have been..possibly her greatest role, which she declined to do out of fear of the vocal demands. Such fear did not prevent her from going all outm in this set, along with Pavarotti(never better), and Christa Ludwig as Suzsuki(extraordinary), and Jeromoe Hines(superb), with Von Karajan conducting with great feeling and slow pacing that works. This is a known quanitity to be sure...but it needs to be staed that this Madama Butterfly is the very best.
Freni re-recorded it with Sinopoli conducting on DG, and while good, it cannot go head to head with the Decca set. Enjoy.
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on 8 October 2003
You might wonder who Freni manages it. She does not have the build of the typical leading soprano. She is not your typical fat lady yet she brings to the world of opera the most perfect of voices and performances. Having seen her perform a number of times I can say this disc does capture a lot of her excellent qualities. This performance is magnificent. In the firm version with Domingo the demands of the camera does not bring out her best but with this she shines. The orchestra under Herbert von Karajan does a marvellous job and although I sometimes find his command of orchestra over dramatic in some of his recordings, in this I think he has got it just right. Christa Ludwig turns in a great role as Suzsuki. The part does not have the same edge as some of Puccini's other great supporting roles (like Liu in Turnadot or Musetta in La Boheme) but in this Christa give an excellent performance which fit in perfectly.
What I think is special about this production is the combination of Freni and Pavarotti They were born in the same town (Modena) in the same year and here they are, of course, performing in their own language. Recorded in 1974 just as Pavarotti was getting known his voice still has the magical quality before the high life and concert tours took their tool. They have a special harmony in their performances which I do not think comes through when Freni sings with Domingo. To get the full effect buy this version, the highlights are good, but this is better. The quality is of the recoding is very good and so do not put off into buying later recordings just because it a 1970o's recording.
It is hard to say how the test of time will treat this recording. It is certainly the best around to date. The quality shines through. If you like this, also get the Freni and Pavarotti version of La Boheme.
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on 21 November 2011
In all areas I firmly believe this is one of the finest opera recordings ever made. There are simply no flaws. Freni's youthful, delicate and powerful voice is Cio Cio San. Pavarotti gleams in this tessitura and Ludwig is perfect as Suzuki.

Butterfly is the finest of Puccini's operas, in my opinion, the score is littered with delicate textures and leitmotifs, not to mention spine-tingling melody. Karajan revels in these textures, but he also rightly indulges the emotions which peak beyond measure in this recording.

There are other great recordings - Victoria de los Angeles and Jussi Bjorling on EMI; Scotto and Bergonzi also on EMI; Toti dal Monte and Gigli on Naxos; there's even an overlooked recording with Raina Kabaivanska on the Arts label which I would recommend, but Freni, Pavarotti, Karajan and the Vienna Philhamonic are in their own league.

This recording is all the reasons why you love opera.
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on 11 March 2009
Wonderful version of Madama Butterfly. I know several performances, but none touches my heart so much as this one, with the delicate pure voice of Mirella Freni end the passionate 'voce' of the great Pavarotti. One minor minus: the fast intro. I prefer the intro in the Barbirolli (Renata Scotto) performance.
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VINE VOICEon 13 January 2008
Madam Butterfly, one of the most popular operas ever composed is given full justice with this wonderful recording. Karajan maintains a superb tempi throughout, preferring to allow the music to flow naturally. The singers, Freni and Pavarotti especially are at their best here. The entire First Act just flows and must be deemed to be the best version of this act available. What I also like about this version; the sound is wonderfully balanced. Neither too loud, nor too quiet, I did not have to adjust the level of sound on my system once throughout the entire recording which I sometimes have to do with some recordings of other operas and musical works. All I had to do was to sit back and thoroughly enjoy this sublime work. First Class!

If you already have recordings of this opera, you should really add this to your collection. My only criticism though is that it is rather highly priced bearing in mind that it has been available for a number of years now. Perhaps, discounting should be made more readily available, particularly to regular customers of Amazon.
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on 5 February 2016
Recorded in the 1970s, this still leads the field. The main attraction here has to be the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Karajan. Puccini's score comes to life as you'll probably never hear it again - full, lush strings that have weight and sonorous depth, delicate filigree woodwind playing and where necessary, thunderous brass. Even the bass drum in the final scene sounds better than ever before - it is quite terrifying. Not only this, but Karajan moulds an interpretation that is unlikely to be paralleled in my lifetime. It's slow in places (especially Act 1) but not in the self-conscious way that some conductors tried to make their mark in opera - it sounds so right that pretty well any other performance sounds rushed and perfunctory by comparison. It's worth getting this set for the orchestral playing alone.

Of course singers matter too, and here you have a fine cast. Freni is both touching and powerful of voice where needed; there are no doubt equally good Butterflys (Butterflies?) but she certainly delivers the goods and won't leave you with a dry eye. Pavarotti does the seemingly impossible in that his singing is so inspired that you can almost forget that Pinkerton is a total See You Next Tuesday. His remorse in the final part sounds as genuine as you'll get - though I still think it's a shame that Pinkerton's not grabbed by the Yakuza at the end and made to pay for his actions. Robert Kerns gives a well-sung but unexceptional Sharpless, which to me sounds right as the American consul is a decent but bland character.

We also get the ever-reliable Christa Ludwig as Suzuki. She's the singer with the Midas touch, and as expected we get a beautifully sung, in-depth portrayal of this sympathetic character. Her reaction to Pinkerton's return with his wife Kate is heartbreaking.

The recording is stunning. I'm not anti-digital per se but this is as good as any digital recording I've heard and better than many. Everything sounds natural, there is a spacious soundstage and the glory of this performance can be heard in full.

One of those recordings that definitely makes life worth living.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 22 April 2015
It's a sobering thought that this recording, now over forty years old, remains the most recommendable and is the most recent of those that offer real competition; we are essentially talking about vintage recordings although Decca's analogue sound is absolutely first class, allowing us to hear the beauty of the VPO under Karajan.

Yes, there was a studio recording in 2008 conducted by Pappano - indeed, there hasn't been a complete recording since - and it had much to offer, but there were weaknesses in the secondary casting and, as much as I admire both Gheorghiu and Kaufmann, I think neither was ideal for their roles, especially compared with Freni and Pavarotti here. Of the rival versions, two conducted by Leinsdorf with Anna Moffo and Leontyne Price and two recordings by Victoria de los Angeles with Di Stefano and Björling respectively and Scotto's two accounts - especially the first with Bergonzi and Barbirolli conducting - all have their attractions but none matches the glamour or indeed the sound quality of this 1974 recording.

Both the star Modenesi, Freni and Pavarotti, were only 38 years old at the time (they shared the same wet nurse!) and both in tip-top voice. Pavarotti does the impossible by making that irredeemable swine Pinkerton dashing, alluring, charming and sympathetic; the sheer bravura of his singing suspends our judgement and his ability to combine the sweetest mezza voce with ringing top notes combine to make this what I think his best recording. Fortunately, his Sharpless, Robert Kerns, who could be a lumpy singer, is also in finest voice here, even if he's no Gobbi, and their duets go with a real swing. Michel Sénéchal's obsequious Goro is perfect and of course Christa Ludwig lightens her big mezzo to make Suzuki a warm, sympathetic handmaid. Even the Bonzo is given luxury casting with that excellent Romanian bass Marius Rintzler declaiming imperiously against his niece's marriage.

And what of Freni? The miracle here is that she is the most credible, delicate and affecting Butterfly since Renata Scotto yet she never essayed the role on stage. She has the heft to carry off the big moments - after all, she was persuaded to sing Aida for Karajan with considerable success - but also the legato and evenness of line to caress Puccini's achingly beautiful melodies. Her first entry, as she climbs the hill and finishes with a long, poised, floated C sharp is simply heavenly. She never sounds coy (c.f. Toti dal Monte) or too hearty (c.f. Renata Tebaldi) but simply authentic as a naive teenager.

I love the sumptuousness of the orchestra's playing here. A friend maintains that because of the way Karajan strokes the score, he once walked into a record shop (they used to exist) and mistook an orchestral passage in this recording for Wagner but for me Karajan's indulgence lifts this oddly unsavoury tale into the realm of High Romance; the love music concluding Act One - "Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malia", so beguilingly sung by Björling, too - allows us momentarily to forget the horrors to come. It is the dramatic and musical equivalent of Verdi's "Già nella notte densa" in "Otello".

This recording remains expensive and extravagantly spread over three CDs - and it's worth every penny.
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on 13 March 2014
To say there is just one definitive performance of this great piece is absurd. Butterfly is well served by the gramophone. I would never be parted from the Scotto Bergonzi performance, however this is another set not to do without. There are a handful of extraordinary performances by singers who had not sung the role of stage, and Freni delivers one of them here (Vickers 1st Otello, Tebaldi's Elizabeth de Valois and Price as Isolde also come to mind). I once read an interview in which Freni attributed her longevity in Opera to the fact that he name means 'breaks' and she knows how to apply them. Well this is Freni at full throttle and the big scenes of the opera are gloriously rendered with no loss of quality even at the most taxing moments. She is wonderfully partnered by Pavarotti who delivers yet another show-stopper of a puccini role for decca at the time of his vocal prime. Karajan draws some wonderfully idiomatic and stylish signing from him and the rest of the cast. Indeed this is perhaps (alongside Boheme with the same pair) Karajan's most successful italian opera recording. The sumptuous sound and orchestra are an added bonus.
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on 16 November 2011
this version of Butterfly exceeded my expectations,the cost of it was worth every penny,the two leads are at the top of their powers.I have seen and heard this opera many times over the years,but this is the one all others should be measured by.On three discs, it comes with a book explaining its begining and how badly it was received on its first showing,Puccini made changes,and all was well thank goodness,so now i can i can hear it anytime,not the same as seeing it on stage i know ,but the next best thing sueb
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on 22 December 2008
This has got to be in the top three of all opera's available on CD.And I've heard several hundred. No other cast comes close, no other conductor comes close, Pavvy and Mirelli are at the top of their game, and all, and I mean all, of the cast are in excellent voice, and it has soul, baby!.Alas I only have it on tape, but I fully understand why it remains top whack in price, and will remain so, for ever and ever, 'cos it's worth every centime!
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