This version of Tosca was made in 1976 and from the beginning was
praised for the excellence of singing in the two most important parts and
for the good recording. It has now been re-mastered and issued in the Great
Recordings series. There is no doubt that the recording now sounds absolutely
stunning and that the set gives great listening pleasure.
The singing of Caballé as Tosca is one of the most beautifully sung
on record, with each ravishing note following each other throughout the part.
She is precise with words and takes great care over phrasing. However the
opera is one of the most dramatic ones written and it can be argued that
Callas in the earlier EMI set brings out more of the drama.
Carreras's Cavaradossi is one of his best performances on record. He is in
excellent voice and sings with passion and vigour; his "E lucevan le stelle"
is particularly enjoyable. Although their voices are very different, Carreras
compares well with the famous interpretation given by Jussi Björling
Wixell has a good voice, but his characterisation of Scarpia is lacking in
character and lacks the menacing suavity that the part really needs. The
secondary singers are all very good as is the Royal Opera House chorus.
Sir Colin Davis is not in my opinion at his best with dramatic or exciting
music and therefore would not seem the best conductor for this most dramatic
of operas with its lechery and killing. Indeed the direction is not the most
dramatic. It is however finely detailed and the various leitmotivs are brought
up very well by the conductor. Thus the overall interpretation is very much
of a piece. If you want drama and real excitement this is not the interpretation
for you; however it is an interpretation very well suited to gramophone listening
in musical terms, being well balanced and with often very beautiful sounds.
I found myself enjoying it as a whole much more than I expected from some
of the parts.
Two of the best overall performances are given in the two sets conducted
by Karajan. however for the most dramatic singing one would probably choose
the set with Callas, Di Stefano and Gobbi. Nonetheless this Philips set has
considerable merit and should not be overlooked
The recording, including some effective sound effects, sounds very well,
with space around the voices and a natural balance between them and the
orchestra. The CDs are well presented, with exceptionally interesting notes
by Mosco Carner and includes a full libretto, given in two volumes.