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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca (1896-99)
Raina Kabaivanska (soprano) Tosca; Plácido Domingo (tenor) Mario Cavaradossi; Sherill Milnes (baritone) Scarpia; Giancarlo Luccardi (bass) Angelotti; Mario Ferrara (tenor) Spoletta; Alfredo Mariotti (bass) Sacristan; Bruno Grella (bass) Sciarrone; Domenico Medici (bass) Jailer; Plácido Domingo Jnr (treble) Shepherd Boy
Ambrosian Singers; New Philharmonia Orchestra/Bruno Bartoletti.
Rec. Walthamstow Hall, London in August 1976 (sound); filmed on location in Rome, Italy, September-October 1976.
Director Gianfranco de Bosio. Set and Costume Giancarlo Pucci.
NTSC Colour 4:3; Region Code 0 (Worldwide). PCM Stereo/DTS 5.1.

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Real elements of nostalgia here, to see Domingo (senior, that is) in full flight. His refulgent voice is one of the enduring joys of this film of Tosca.

The 'film' bit is important to note. Filming took place in the various specified locations in Rome, so there is a particular authenticity to the action. It does, indeed, feel remarkably Italian. The location is fixed right at the beginning, as we watch the young-looking Angelotti running desperately. There is no music at this point, only sounds of nature. The fatal chords begin as he approaches the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle. No need for stage symbolism once inside this is a gorgeous Italian church.

Some of the techniques used are, of course, cinematographic reminiscence snippets, as in footage of Tosca laughing. The film does not over-use these techniques. Direction is always sensitive.

The recording is certainly up-front, adding to the orchestra's imposing grasp on the score. Balance and depth are good.

Interestingly, Domingo begins a trifle wobbly as the painter Cavaradossi, really reaching top form (at which he stays for the rest of the film) at 'Dammi i colori' and the ensuing 'Recondita armonia'. Unmistakably Domingo. Raina Kabaivanska is a determined, strong Tosca every inch the Italian temperament in her jealousy! The two singers work magically together as in track 6, when Domingo 'takes' a climactic phrase from his Tosca. It positively sizzles.

As Scarpia, Sherill Milnes is imposing. He exudes a certain evil dignity, although it can move towards smarm in some exchanges with Tosca. His black, 'Va, Tosca' towards the end of Act 1 (as Puccini adds layer upon layer) is chilling. The camera-work - excellent throughout - emphasises this, moving suddenly from wide-angle of the congregation to sudden close-up of Scarpia.

Whistling winds precede the fateful chordal opening of Act 2. The recording at this point seems perhaps overly resonant around the voices, yet it is not enough to detract from Milnes' superb legato; or for that matter Spoletta's - i.e. Mario Ferrara's - excellent diction at speed. Again, as in the finale of act one, space is well conveyed - here for the off-stage voices of the cantata.

The Scarpia/Tosca confrontation is good, if not massively spine-chilling. Camera work is decidedly of the cinema. I would have liked to shiver more at Tosca's accusation of 'Assassino' in fact these shivers were to come later as Tosca bargains with her enemy ('Il prezzo') and later still in the slow and well-sustained 'Vissi d'arte'.

Imposing brass introduce Act 3 after the by-now-expected sound of wind this time around the Castel Sant'Angelo, that is. The film quality itself seems somewhat grainy at this time. Whether it was a good idea to have Domingo Junior as the Shepherd boy is debatable I have certainly heard better. Still, the Jailer, Domenico Medici, acts as a resonant counter-balance, and Bartoletti's handling of the darkest of textures is masterly. The solo strings are superb; they can sound awful and they were decidedly ropey at ENO in 2004, I can tell you.

Kabaivanska excels as she relates the events of what we know as Act 2. A pity that when Domingo kisses her hand he is still singing on the recording!. But the love duet is immensely touching and it is a marvellous dramatic stroke that as the couple sing unaccompanied in octaves, we can see the firing squad entering behind the protagonists.

Telling that Domingo refuses to meet her eyes when she tells him not to move after he is shot, showing he knows what will unfold. The final moments are unashamedly shocking and in that, gripping, including the positively gruesome shot of the post-rampart Tosca, splayed awkwardly on the ground below.

This DVD makes the perfect companion to the staged Tosca on Opus Arte conducted by Benini (review ). Lip-sync is not always spot-on, be warned. Occasionally a singer and principal ones at that will close his or her mouth to indicate the end of a note whereas in the studio it was clearly longer! This is occasionally referred to in the review above. Fascinating. Puccini makes us watch Tosca as we would watch a car crash we know will happen.

My preferred Tosca DVD now, particularly for the often glorious Domingo.

Colin Clarke

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