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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Tosca (1900)
Magda Olivero (soprano) – Tosca; Eugenio Fernandi (tenor) – Mario Cavaradossi; Scipio Colombo (baritone) – Scarpia; Giovanni Omodei (bass) – Angelotti; Vito de Taranto (baritone) – Sagrestano; Piero de Palma (tenor) – Spoletta; Sergio Livi (baritone) – Sciarrone; Giuseppe Albano (bass) – Un carceriere; Giovanni Bianchini (treble) – Un pastore; Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Milano della RAI/Emidio Tieri
rec. broadcast, Milano, 31 October 1957
ISTITUTO DISCOGRAFICO ITALIANO IDIS 6519/20 [42:44 + 66:17]

The 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.

The 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.

Of 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.

Eugenio 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.

Olivero’s 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!

As so often with historical issues the target group is primarily specialist collectors with an interest in a certain opera or a certain singer.

The 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.

Göran Forsling 

 

 

 


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