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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Montserrat Caballé (sop) Tosca; Jose Carreras (ten) Cavaradossi; Ingvar Wixell (bar) Scarpia; Samuel Ramey (bass) Angelotti; Piero De Palma (ten) Spoletta; Domenico Trimarchi (bar) Sacristan; William Elvin (bar) Sciarrone, Gaoler; Ann Murray (mez) Shepherd Boy;
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden / Sir Colin Davis.
Recorded 1976
PHILIPS Great Recordings 464 729-2
two discs: [118.15] (ADD)
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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 (RCA).

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.

Arthur Baker

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