A great new Madama Butterfly hardly seems possible. Hasn't the opera been done so much that there's nothing new to discover? Haven't all the great Italian Puccini sopranos, from Renata Tebaldi to Mirella Freni, come and gone?
This new set isn't for listeners attached to those lush Italianate voices. Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu has plenty of vocal shimmer, but it's a lean sound that makes its points through an often-r evelatory projection of the opera's text. Her Pinkerton is the handsome young Finnish tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who tentatively lives up to his hype.
But the real star of the set is conductor Antonio Pappano, whose vital, intelligent, emotionally bristling treatment of Puccini's psychologically precise score has perhaps never been equaled on disc.