PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly
Renata Tebaldi (Cio-Cio-San); Giuseppe Campora (B. F. Pinkerton); Nell Rankin (Suzuki); Giovanni Inghilleri (Sharpless); Piero de Palma (Goro); Gianna Diozzi (Kate Pinkerton); Melchiorre Luise (Prince Yamadori); Fernando Corena (The Bonze); Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Ceciia, Rome/Alberto Erede, cond. Arias from Manon Lescaut, Il trovatore and Faust sung by Renata Tebaldi with the Suisse Romande Orchestra conducted by Alberto Erede
NAXOS 8.110254-55 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT: 72:25 & 73:58
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PUCCINI: La Bohème
Renata Tebaldi (Mimi); Giacinto Prandelli (Rodolfo); Hilde Gueden (Musetta); Giovanni Inghilleri (Marcello); Fernando Corena (Schaunard); Raphaël Arie (Colline); Piero de Palma (Parpignol); Melchiorre Luise (Benoit/Alcindoro); Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome/Alberto Erede, cond.
PUCCINI: Highlights from La Bohème
Licia Albanese (Mimi); Giuseppe di Stefano (Rodolfo); Patrice Munsel (Musetta); Leonard Warren (Marcello); George Cehanovsky (Schaunard); Nicola Moscona (Colline); RCA Victor Orch/Renato Cellini and Victor Trucco, cond.
NAXOS 8.110252-53 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT: 76:22 & 66:46
(NOT AVAILABLE IN THE UNITED STATES)

Here are two major issues from Naxos, Renata Tebaldi's first recordings of Butterfly and Bohème both recorded in Rome in July 1951. Both are examples of the Decca Record Company's newly-developed FFRR (full frequency range recording) process, with a fine balance between singers, chorus and orchestra. Tebaldi made her debut in 1943 as Elena in Mefistofele, attracted attention of Toscanini who engaged her for La Scala, and signed a recording contract with Decca in 1949. On both of these recordings she is heard at her radiant best fully conveying the tragedy of both heroines. Hearing these recordings it is easy to understand why she became a reigning Puccini/Verdi soprano for the next quarter-century. Decca has surrounded her with uniformly fine singers. Both tenors were among the finest of the era and it's a pleasure to hear Hilde Gueden's Musetta. London/Decca has issued both of these recordings and they are still in the catalog, but they don't have the valuable "extras" Naxos provides.

The Butterfly set also contains "In quelle trine morbide" from Puccini's Manon Lescaut, "Tacea la notte" from Verdi's Il trovatore, and "It était un roi de Thulé" and the "Jewel Song" from Gounod's Faust, three of the first Tebaldi recordings, made in Geneva in 1949 with the Suisse Romande Orchestra conducted by Erede, more samples of the remarkable beauty of the early Tebaldi voice.

The Bohème set is even more generous. It contains major excerpts from the opera recorded by RCA Victor originally issued on LP (LM 1709). Oddly this was recorded over a three-year period, 1949/51. Included are about 40 minutes of the opera: the three big act one arias, Musetta's "Waltz Song," Mimi's "Donde lieta usci," and "Dunque è proprio finita" which follows it, the Rodolfo/Marcello "In un coupé?" and the entire final scene. Giuseppe di Stefano was at his peak at this time and his "Che gelida manina" is magnificent. Licia Albanese already had made two complete recordings of the opera. She had joined the Met in 1940 and for two decades sang Verdi and Puccini at the company. Hers is a well-sung, touching Mimi. And we have the luxury of Leonard Warren as Marcello—what a voice! Patrice Munsel is a bright, assured Musetta.

Both of these sets are terrific for all collectors. There are no librettos (the London/Decca reissues didn't have them either), but there is a track-by-track analysis of proceedings. The transfers reflect Mark Obert-Thorn's usual impeccable standards. The Boheme recording is not available in the United States, probably because of legal obstacles from the RCA excerpts.

R.E.B. (November 2003)