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Recordings

Puccini Gold
25 Feb 2008

Puccini Gold

Many an anthology of Puccini's "greatest hits" has found its way to market, and many more will follow this latest from Decca, Puccini Gold.

Puccini Gold

Luciano Pavarotti, Montserrat Caballé, Carlo Bergonzi, Mirella Freni, Renée Fleming et al.

Decca 028947593799 [2CDs]

$19.99  Click to buy

Besides demonstrating how easily the great composer's operas can be raided for two hours of inspired lyrical treasures, Decca's compilation highlights the stars it apparently regards as its greatest marketing winners. Six names appear above the CD title on the cover in large font: Pavarotti, Netrebko, Bocelli, Villazon, Fleming and Domingo, and their handsomely posed portraits adorn the cover. In smaller print at the bottom of the front cover reside stars such as Jose Carreras, Angela Gheorghiu, and Roberto Alagna. Their portraits are found on the back cover. One name on the front cover that may prove elusive to the star-conscious is Kaufmann, as in Jonas Kaufmann, whose debut CD Decca has only been recently released. He joins Kiri te Kanawa in making the front cover listings without earning a space for his photo, front or back.

The two discs feature many indisputably great selections, including several prized cuts from the complete opera recordings of Madama Butterfly and La Boheme that Herbert von Karajan led. Zubin Mehta's Turandot gets space, although strangely Joan Sutherland's phenomenal "In questa reggia" is bypassed for her somewhat less impressive "Senza mama" from Suor Angelica. Unsurprisingly, Luciano Pavarotti starts the collection with "Nessun dorma," and both of Liu's arias, as sung by Montserrat Caballe, appear on CD two.

While it is understandable that Decca wants to feature its more recent catalog, those selections are among the less impressive. Renée Fleming comes across as mannered in the ubiquitous "O mio babbino caro," although her "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" is indisputably lovely. Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko ham it up a bit too much in "O soave fanciulla," and conductor Nicola Luisotti enables their act with fussy pacing. The darker tenor of Kaufmann makes for a gruff Rodolfo in "Che gelida manina," but it is an interesting turn on the arguably overly familiar aria. Opera snobs will turn up their noses at Andrea Bocelli's "Addio, fiorito asil," but it is a fine selection for his voice. However, Decca could easily have gone back just a couple years for an even finer version by tenor Joseph Calleja. Apparently Decca has already forgotten about him.

In a nice touch, Decca includes some instrumental selections conducted by Riccardo Chailly, with the rare but lovely "Crisantemi" and a potent intermezzo from Manon Lescaut. Otherwise the two CDs survey almost exclusively the tenor/soprano repertoire. Surely Scarpia could have made an appearance, or even Sherill Milnes's Rance, heard briefly in Placido Domingo's "Ch'ella mi creda" from La Fanciulla del West.

The set's real demerit lies in the editing. The orchestral introduction to "Recondita armonia," for example, has been cut, so that the track abruptly begins with Jose Carreras singing the title words. Then after the aria has concluded, the performance continues with some of the Sacristan's lines, before ending as suddenly as it began. Similarly, after Gheorghiu's "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" ends, we get the dialogue leading up to "O soave fanciulla," with the music ending just where the duet would commence.

At any rate, most confirmed Puccini lovers have probably long ago assembled their favorite music as performed by their favorite singers. A collection such as Puccini Gold is probably for those who have had just enough of a taste of Puccini to know they want to explore the music further. Despite the editing glitches and the arguable choices of artists, those purchasers should be happy with Puccini Gold.

Chris Mullins

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