Italian soprano Magda Olivero is regarded by many as one of
the greatest singers of the last century, especially in the
verismo repertoire. She was born in 1910 and made her debut
at the age of 22. During the 1930s she became very popular and
appeared widely, took part in the first ever studio recording
of Turandot in 1938. there she sang Liů; Gina Cigna was
Turandot. However, in 1940 or 1941 – both years appear in my
sources – she married and retired from the stage, only returning
ten years later. This was at the request of the aged Francesco
Cilea, who regarded her as the best Adriana Lecouvreur. After
her comeback she sang all over the world, making her debut at
the Metropolitan as Tosca in 1975, finally retiring in 1981.
Even after that she sang locally in churches for another decade.
In spite of her high reputation she recorded very little. Apart
from Turandot she only recorded Fedora in 1969
under Lamberto Gardelli with Mario Del Monaco and Tito Gobbi
for Decca. There was also a highlights disc from Francesca
da Rimini for the same company with Rescigno and Del Monaco.
She was an expressive singer and actor and is often mentioned
in the same breath as Maria Callas and Leyla Gencer – the latter
also sadly under-recorded. Thus it is good to have this radio
recording of Tosca, which was one of her favourite roles.
tapes from RAI have been digitally remastered and are sonically
quite decent, considering their age. The quality is a bit variable
and the voices are recessively balanced, but turning up the
volume it is still possible to achieve a sound-picture that
is acceptable. The orchestral sound is sometimes rather split
up; whether this is due to sloppy playing or unfortunate placing
of microphones is hard to decide. The conducting is routine
but what matters is the singing and there are several good things
to appreciate here.
the minor roles Angelotti sounds elderly and doesn’t make much
of an impact. On the other hand Vito de Taranto’s surprisingly
lyrical Sagrestano is lively and expressive without sounding
like a parody. I wonder how many times Piero de Palma recorded
Spoletta. He sings it here with his customary involvement.
Fernandi is mainly remembered as Calaf on Maria Callas’s recording
of Turandot. Here he sings Cavaradossi’s part with lyric
glow and warmly beautiful tone. He isn’t always successful when
he tries to be expressive. Hear what happens in the scene just
before the execution where Tosca instructs him how to fall convincingly.
He answers – ‘smiling’ the libretto says – Come la Tosca
in teatro. Instead of sounding warm and happy he is rather
ironic. Scipio Colombo has a rather light baritone and at his
first entrance he sounds decidedly small-scale and unimportant.
He grows in stature and sings the role with oily restraint and
honeyed insinuations, making him doubly dangerous. This singer,
born the same year as Magda Olivero, also had an important career
but very few recordings to his credit. A Fedora for Cetra
with Caniglia and Prandelli and a Don Giovanni for Concert
Hall are the only ones I can recall.
voice seems quite lyrical with silvery tone and rapid vibrato
- almost a flutter that may well be a reason why she was not
regarded as suitable for recording. It is, however, obvious
from her first entrance that here is a singer who can colour
her voice to create a believable character. In that respect
she is the equal of Maria Callas. She has an inclination to
be melodramatic and this disfigures her reading once or twice.
In verismo opera this was, and probably still is in some quarters,
fully accepted. Tosca is arguably a verismo opera but
Tosca is an actress with noble bearing and she would probably
not condescend to crying out so openly before a scoundrel like
Scarpia. Anyway, Vissi d’arte which can be sobbed to
pieces, is very touchingly sung with frail and vulnerable tone.
Just listen to her in the last act when she has just told Mario
about how they are to flee after the mock execution. Liberi!
she sings – ‘free!’ – and her tone is so lovingly, dreaming
sweet. A great actress acting a great actress!
so often with historical issues the target group is primarily
specialist collectors with an interest in a certain opera or
a certain singer.
first of Maria Callas’s two studio sets is available on both
EMI and Naxos – in mono of course. For a few euro more one can
get Karajan’s superb Decca set, vintage c.1960, with Leontyne
Price, Giuseppe Di Stefano and Giuseppe Taddei in a sonically
stunning recording. Both these sets, and some others too, are
preferable for general listeners but Olivero aficionados should
not hesitate. There are no texts and translations, only a biography
of Olivero and a photo of her as Adriana Lecouvreur.