Sunday 5 February 2012

CD Review - Tosca

This disc is the record of a milestone in the history of the post-war Covent Garden opera company. When re-founded in 1946, the company had acted very much as an English repertory company, with occasional foreign visitors and guests (such as Kirsten Flagstad and Elizabeth Schwarzkopf). For the June 1955 revival of Puccini's Tosca all 3 principals and the conductor were Italian guests, the first time that all principals had been guests.It represented Tebaldi's first appearance a the Covent Garden theatre and gives us the chance to hear Tito Gobbi live in a role which he had recorded with Callas in 1953.

Tebaldi is a supremely aristocratic Tosca, beautifully sung with a gloriously fine line. Hers is a disciplined, well schooled voice which sounds glorious. Tebaldi sings in paragraphs, contributing beautifully moulded phrases, as compared to Callas who illuminates every single note. Recorded live, the performance comes with an added dramatic edge. The scene in Act 2, between Gobbi and Tebaldi is thrilling. But if you took the performance of Vissi d'arte out of context, I don't think that you would find it the most powerful on disc. Ultimately, though, this is a vividly dramatic performance but one that is also well schooled and, above all, well sung.

Ferruccio Tagliavini has the sort of tenor mannerisms that it is easy to deride; the opening phrase of Vittoria in Act 2 is horrendously extended and we get a sob in Act 3. But it is the sort of open throated, dramatic performance of the roale that has become a rarity nowadays. It is pointless castigating Tagliavini for being what he is, a stereotypical Italian tenor of his period. Instead we should enjoy the freedom of his voice, the good sense of line and the rapport with Tebaldi's Tosca.

Gobbi's Scarpia is above all an aristocrat, one corrupted and made vicious by power, but an aristocrat all the same. A commanding presence, he dominates the close of Act 1, just as Scarpia should (I write this with memories of a recent live performance where the baritone didn't). His recording with Callas is a complete performance, but recorded live this is a thrilling event.

Certainly that is what this feels like, we are eaves-dropping on a real event. But when I first put the disc on my heart sank as I listened to the boxy sound of the orchestra in the prelude. However my ears soon attuned, and the voices are captured with remarkable clarity; their diction coming over well. The recording comes from a BBC broadcast made on June 30th 1955 and generally has remarkable stability.

The rest of the Covent Garden regulars in the smaller roles provide good support, with Michael Langdon as Angelotti and Howell Glynne as a characterful Sacristan.

Conductor Francesco Molinari-Pradelli doesn't frighten the horses and though sympathetic to his singers foibles, generates a good dramatic performance.

Inevitably this is not a library recording. But there are many reaons for wanting it as an extra on the library shelves, with notable performances from all 3 principals.

Puccini - Tosca
ica classics ICAC 5022 2CD's [42.45, 67.00]

Tosca - Renata Tebaldi
Cavaradossi - Ferruccio Tagliavini
Scarpia - Tito Gobbi
Angelotti - Michael Langdon
Sacristan - Howell Glynne
Spoleta - David Tree
Sciarrone  - Ronald Lewis
Un carceriere - Rhydderch Davies
Shepherd boy - Noreen Berry

Chorus and Orchestra of Covent Garden
Francesco Molinari-Pradelli

Recorded live June 1955

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