A Lucky Find

I was greeted with a nice surprise yesterday after picking my wife up at the University Library on the way home from work: the library was selling old classical music records for $1, and she had found a Madama Butterfly recording for me. It features the great Italians Toti Dal Monte and Beniamino Gigli as Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton at the Rome Opera House in 1939. This is, allegedly, the first professional recording of the opera ever made, and it is very cool to think that these were first-generation Puccini interpreters. While it certainly has its flaws (many of the supporting cast sound quite tinny and off pitch, and the characterizations of the Japanese characters are over the top even on record), the orchestra plays blazingly fast and furious, with a sharp, crisp interpretation that doesn’t much wallow in the lushness of the score the way we expect Puccini to sound today. Dal Monte and Gigli both have voices that immediately date them, but there is also a timeless quality to both. The recording I have is an old RCA Victor, but Naxos has also released it on CD as part of their “Great Opera Recordings” series. See the YouTube clips below for soundbytes of Toti Dal Monte and Beniamino Gigli:

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