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
Robert J Farr