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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca (1900).
Adriana Guerrini (soprano) Floria Tosca; Gianni Poggi (tenor) Mario Cavaradossi; Paolo Silveri (baritone) Baron Scarpia; Jan Emanuel (bass) Cesare Angelotti; Carlo Badioli (bass) Sacristan; Armando Benzi (tenor) Spoletta; Eraldo Coda (bass) Sciarrone; Giulio Biellesi (bass) Un Carceriere; Elvina Ramella (soprano) Un Pastore; Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of RAI, Torino/Francesco Molinari-Pradelli.
Rec. Turin, Italy, 1952. mono ADD
WARNER FONIT 5050466-3305-2-9 [105’46: 42’03 + 63’43].


One of the better of the Warner Fonit reissues, this Tosca essentially works because of the experienced baton of Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, who paces the drama with an unfailingly natural instinct. Tempi are neither unnecessarily protracted nor manic. The Turin Radio Orchestra responds with aplomb, keeping scrappiness to a minimum (no easy matter in this piece). There is no better exemplar of this than the very beginning, with its well-defined accents; but also hear how Molinari-Pradelli’s tempo for ‘Recondita armonia’ precludes sentimentality while giving space for the pure, lyrical vocal line. Similarly, in Act II Molinari-Pradelli is as at home in the tender accompaniment to ‘Vissi d’arte’ as in the drama of the stabbing. Perhaps his real achievement, though, is to invoke a sense of the theatre in the work’s climactic final moments (especially when Tosca realises that Cavaradossi is really dead).

Adriana Guerrini is Floria Tosca. Guerrini sang often in provincial Sicilian towns in the late thirties, later rising to fame in post-War Naples. There is a version of Manon Lescaut in which she appears with Gigli that dates from circa 1952. Although mainly known for Verdi and Puccini roles, she did sing a Marschallin at La Scala. As Tosca, she also appeared with Corelli at Catania in 1954, not too long after the present recording was made. Her voice is mobile, yet also capable of great tenderness (the way she creeps into ‘Vissi d’arte’ is memorable). There is an edge in the higher regions that can become tiring to listen to, but her identification with this part is very convincing. However, by the time Act III Scene 3 comes, it is obvious that this is not a voice to listen to every day as it is just not comfortable on the ear.

Her Cavaradossi is Gianni Poggi, a singer who has divided opinion. It is certainly true that he is no great actor through the voice – ‘E lucevan le stelle’ is nicely phrased (if not coloured), yet one would be hard-pressed to believe that this is a man giving in to despair. The problem stems from the fact that he appears unnecessarily narcissistic, luxuriating in his voice without making real contact with the ongoing dramatic situation. He does, however, scream convincingly when under torture and his declarations of love in Act I carry some weight.

The vital role of Scarpia is taken by Paolo Silveri, in commanding form. His voice is focused (‘Tosca è un buon falco! …’) and he shows during the course of the second act just how big his instrument can be. Not only that, he possesses a wide variety of utterance. Angelotti (Jan Emanuel) has a fine grasp of his role – we hear the shake in his voice in the opening scene as one of fear, not ill-controlled vibrato.

Minor roles are well-assigned. Giulio Biellesi’s Jailer in particular is focused and warm of tone. The recording generally stands up to Puccini’s major climaxes, with the exception of some distortion just prior to the ‘Trionfal’ octaves of Tosca and Cavaradossi. Occasional spot-lighting can be distracting – the too-closely miked trumpets immediately following this passage being a case in point.

This is not the only Tosca from Warner Fonit – Arturo Basile’s version is on 8573-87479-2. But it should, I believe, be heard, especially at the price. None of the singers’ flaws is sufficient to divert attention from Molinari-Pradelli’s considered yet exciting conception. As usual, text is supplied in Italian only, with the briefest of notes and no synopsis.

Colin Clarke

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