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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Tosca (1900)
Zinka Milanov (soprano) – Floria Tosca; Franco Corelli (tenor) – Mario Cavaradossi; Gian Giacomo Guelfi (baritone) – Scarpia; Michael Langdon (bass) – Cesare Angelotti; David Tree (tenor) – Spoletta; Forbes Robinson (bass) – Il sagrestano; Ronald Lewis – Sciarrone; Rhyddeech Davies (bass) – Gaoler; Noreen Berry (soprano) – Shepherd
The Covent Garden Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Alexander Gibson
rec. live, Royal Opera House, London, 1 July 1957. ADD

Recorded live at the Royal Opera House this Tosca can’t measure up against contemporaneous studio sets. On the other hand the sound is far better than on many of the Cetra operas issued at about the same time. The orchestral tuttis are on the whole full and punchy while the voices tend to come and go in accordance with stage movements. There are also, inevitably, some stage noises but, since many present day sets are also live recordings, this is something we have come to expect.
Alexander Gibson in his Royal Opera House debut conducts with a sure sense of drama unfolding, maybe not with any special insights but without any quirky idiosyncrasies. He gives the soloists the space they need in their set pieces. Overall it is a sympathetic performance; ‘sympathetic’ to be interpreted in accordance with the composer’s wishes and the singers’ needs.
The main reason for issuing – and buying – this set is to hear the three main soloists caught live. Both Milanov and Corelli recorded their parts on commercial records, Milanov just a couple of weeks after this performance, in Rome with Björling and Warren for RCA Victor. For Corelli it took another ten years before he made it, for Decca with Nilsson and Fischer-Dieskau. He is impressive on that set but had during the intervening years adopted some less attractive vices, being more showy and extreme in nuances. His was a marvellous instrument with that rare combination of baritonal timbre in the middle register and tremendous power and glory in the uppermost part of the voice. His ability to scale down to a marvellous pianissimo is also there, something that more often than not might be felt to be more exhibitionistic than artistically valid. Here, though, he is mostly well-behaved but the thrill is there throughout. “Recondita armonia” is glorious but not very subtle but his “Qual occhio al mondo” is ravishingly done. In act two his cries of “Vittoria! Vittoria” (CD1 tr. 8) seem to last for ever but he is at his best in the third act with “E lucevan le stelle” (CD2 tr. 15) restrained. “O dolce baci” is sung with warmth and a quite unbelievable diminuendo on “disciogliea dai veli”. The applause afterwards is of the never-ending kind. He also delivers a lyrically beautiful “O dolce mani” (CD2 tr. 17). This was actually his London debut.
Zinka Milanov in one of her signature roles is not quite in that league. She sang Tosca some on hundred times and this was number 95. Never the possessor of a very youthful voice she had at this stage, when she was well past 50, become a little shrill and in places unsteady. That said her identification and dramatic conviction is never in question and she too can be very thrilling, not least in the second act confrontation with Scarpia. This role is taken by the then quite young and little known Gian Giacomo Guelfi, a singer who unfortunately recorded very little. The only other recording I could find in my collection was the DG Cavalleria rusticana under Karajan with Bergonzi and Cossotto. He had an impressive voice though not one of the subtlest perhaps; in this respect he was largely inferior to Gobbi and Taddei. However he could be menacing and cynical and also ingratiatingly oleaginous and insinuating, making his Scarpia an assumption reckon with.
Among the secondary parts Michael Langdon’s dark-hued and sonorous Angelotti and Forbes Robinson’s larger-than-life Corena-like sacristan stand out. Robinson sings his “Angelus Domini” with impressively full, round and black tone.
The set as a whole doesn’t out-manoeuvre any of the established recommendations: Sabata with Callas, Di Stefano and Gobbi; Karajan with Price, Di Stefano and Taddei and possibly Colin Davis with Caballé, Carreras and Wixell. It is however worth investing in for the sake of the young Corelli on glorious form and the opportunity to hear Guelfi.
Göran Forsling


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