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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca – opera in three acts (1900)
Floria Tosca – Renata Scotto (soprano); Mario Cavaradossi – Placido Domingo (tenor); Scarpia – Renato Bruson (baritone); Angelotti – John Cheek (bass); Spoletta – Andre Velis (tenor); A Sacristan – Renato Capecchi (baritone); Sciarrone – Paul Hudson (bass); A gaoler – Itzhak Perlman (bass); A Shepherd Boy – Dominick Martinez (alto)
Ambrosian Opera Chorus; St. Clement Danes School Boys’ Choir
Philharmonia Orchestra/James Levine
rec. 29-31 July, 1-2, 11 August 1980, Kingsway Hall, London
Classics For Pleasure 3932712 [46:08 + 70:11]
Experience Classicsonline

As might be expected with performers of this calibre this is an eminently listenable recording – if not quite up with the very greatest versions of the opera. At the CFP bargain price there is every reason to have it on one’s shelves and it would certainly serve well as an introduction to the work, although in this reissue it comes without either a libretto or any notes on the opera or the performers. It does, however, have a detailed plot synopsis, keyed to the tracks of the CDs.

For those in no need of an introduction to Tosca, the most persuasive reason for its purchase is to be found in the performance of Placido Domingo. Throughout his singing is a touchstone of musical intelligence, his response to details of word and note everywhere exact and nowhere merely finicky. This Cavaradossi is an utterly plausible human being, no mere stereotype of the revolutionary firebrand, and seems to grow in self-knowledge as the work proceeds. Domingo’s voice has both subtlety and power and the results are both moving and technically impressive. Renata Scotto was perhaps past her very best by the time of this recording. She remained a singer with an immensely powerful sense of theatre, and this is powerfully clear here. In purely vocal terms there is perhaps a little too much vibrato and a certain hardness of tone at times; but in terms of dramatic understanding she is superb, and especially so when singing quietly, where she brings to the role a great intensity. And in ‘Vissi d’arte’ she rises to the emotional demands of the music with extraordinary power and considerable beauty. Of the three principals, I find only Renato Brusson slightly disappointing; fine singer as he is, this Scarpia seems somewhat under-characterised, a trifle bland, indeed, and only very intermittently does Bruson invest the role with real menace and sense of threat. Judged by the very highest standards this interpretation of Scarpia leaves something to be desired.

A particular pleasure of this recording is the quality of the supporting singers – including John Cheek’s Angelotti and Andrea Velis’s Spoletta. This is, of course, the recording in which a certain Itzhak Perlman famously sings the two-bar role of the gaoler – and does so perfectly well!

This was an early digital recording and the sound quality is not what we might now expect; indeed it is a bit disappointing for 1980. It lacks much in the way of depth and there is an occasional harshness, particularly in the brass.

Not then, a contender for the highest laurels where this often-recorded opera is concerned; a good interpretation, rather than a great one – though Domingo is very fine indeed.

Glyn Pursglove



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