> Giacomo Puccini - Tosca (highlights) [RJF]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924).
Tosca (highlights)

Tosca, Angela Gheorghiu, (sop).Cavaradossi, Roberto Alagna (tenor), Scarpia, Ruggero Raimondi (baritone).
Tiffin Boys Choir, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Cond. Antonio Pappano.
Recorded August 2000. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London. Full Price.
EMI CLASSICS CDC 7243 557364-2 [78.29]


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These highlights are taken from the sound-track used for the Euripide Production film and issued under licence by EMI, the company to whom the two main protagonists are contracted. Apart from the generous timing, the most unexpected pleasure for me was Alagna's performance as Cavaradossi. His is a well balanced interpretation with thrilling open throated singing in the torture scene (tr17-19) balanced by elegant phrasing and soft singing in "E lucevan le stelle" (tr32) and the love duet that follows. To my ears this is his best recording in the Italian repertoire. it gives me more hope for his forthcoming Manrico than I had before hearing this interpretation. Yes, there are a few instances of nasality in the tone, but they are few and far between. Alagna's performance is certainly superior to that of di Stefano, on either of the sets conducted by de Sabata (with Callas as Tosca and now issued at mid-price), or Karajan (on 'Decca Legends' also at mid-price), and which constitute the gold standard when it comes to recordings of this opera.

It seems cruel, that however good Alagna's contribution to a recording made with his wife, Angela Gheorghiu, it is always upstaged by hers. So it is here, with Gheorghiu at her formidable best. Her voice has grown in size and strength over its wide range. We get a beautifully phrased, lyric, "Vissi d'arte" (tr25) whilst elsewhere she soars or uses her formidable chest voice to give vivid dramatic effects. It is certainly a step along her developmental path, I only hope she is not tempted. into stage performances of some of the spinto roles that have featured on her recent recital discs. Tosca was the zenith of Callas's recording career with her vocal health going rapidly downhill shortly afterwards. Given the far better recording here, it is this performance of the part that I will most frequently return in the future.

Is my conclusion to the previous paragraph my convoluted way of saying that this version displaces Callas/de Sabata as the top recommendation? Well, in the same way that Alagna leaves di Stefano standing as Cavaradossi, so does Gobbi, as Scarpia on that famous set, leave Raimondi here. On film, Raimondi's acting, and saturnine looks, may strike fear in Tosca, but in sound alone you have only to compare his goading of her before the Te Deum, or his response to her 'Quanto' (what price) to hear what is missing; nor can Raimondi ride the orchestra as Gobbi, and Taddei for Karajan, do.

The Orchestra and Chorus of the R.O.H. are on top form under Pappano who draws vivid colours from his forces; only in the introduction to the Te Deum was I a little disappointed when compared with Karajan. The wide dynamic of the recording is well caught by the engineers with the singers slightly forward of the orchestra.

The booklet has a brief essay on the opera, a track-related synopsis, several pages of the principals in costume, but no libretto let alone translation. If you want the latter, and the other 36 minutes or so of the opera then you will have to pay twice as much for the two disc set on EMI CDC 5 57173-2. As far as highlights goes this scoops the prize by a long way for both quality and quantity. See review

Robert J Farr



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