As might be expected with performers of this calibre this is an
eminently listenable recording – if not quite up with the very
greatest versions of the opera. At the CFP bargain price there
is every reason to have it on one’s shelves and it would certainly
serve well as an introduction to the work, although in this reissue
it comes without either a libretto or any notes on the opera or
the performers. It does, however, have a detailed plot synopsis,
keyed to the tracks of the CDs.
For those in no
need of an introduction to Tosca, the most persuasive
reason for its purchase is to be found in the performance
of Placido Domingo. Throughout his singing is a touchstone
of musical intelligence, his response to details of word and
note everywhere exact and nowhere merely finicky. This Cavaradossi
is an utterly plausible human being, no mere stereotype of
the revolutionary firebrand, and seems to grow in self-knowledge
as the work proceeds. Domingo’s voice has both subtlety and
power and the results are both moving and technically impressive.
Renata Scotto was perhaps past her very best by the
time of this recording. She remained a singer with an immensely
powerful sense of theatre, and this is powerfully clear here.
In purely vocal terms there is perhaps a little too much vibrato
and a certain hardness of tone at times; but in terms of dramatic
understanding she is superb, and especially so when singing
quietly, where she brings to the role a great intensity. And
in ‘Vissi d’arte’ she rises to the emotional demands of the
music with extraordinary power and considerable beauty. Of
the three principals, I find only Renato Brusson slightly
disappointing; fine singer as he is, this Scarpia seems somewhat
under-characterised, a trifle bland, indeed, and only very
intermittently does Bruson invest the role with real menace
and sense of threat. Judged by the very highest standards
this interpretation of Scarpia leaves something to be desired.
A particular pleasure
of this recording is the quality of the supporting singers
– including John Cheek’s Angelotti and Andrea Velis’s Spoletta.
This is, of course, the recording in which a certain Itzhak
Perlman famously sings the two-bar role of the gaoler – and
does so perfectly well!
This was an early
digital recording and the sound quality is not what we might
now expect; indeed it is a bit disappointing for 1980. It
lacks much in the way of depth and there is an occasional
harshness, particularly in the brass.
Not then, a contender
for the highest laurels where this often-recorded opera is concerned;
a good interpretation, rather than a great one – though Domingo
is very fine indeed.