This is a reissue on Brilliant of the classic
1953 recording of Tosca; it was originally released
on EMI (562890). Before that: Columbia (CDS7 47175-8 and 33CX1094/5
It's a superb performance, not only for the
presence of Callas (Tosca), Di Stefano (Cavaradossi) and Gobbi
(Scarpia), but also for the momentum, sensitive pace and convincing
sound-world. For these we thank De Sabata.
Tosca was premiered in Rome at the Teatro
Costanzi on 14 January 1900. That makes this benchmark performance
drawn over ten sessions at La Scala only eight years after
the end of World War II closer in time to the work's composition
than to today.
With over a dozen DVDs available to give the
full 'home theatre' experience, an issue for many listeners
will be the quality on these CDs of the sound from tapes made
55 years ago. It's actually remarkably good. Because there
is much movement in the opera - the stances of Tosca in her
exchange with Scarpia, the offstage torturing of Cavaradossi,
the placing of principles and supporters in the final scene
- depth and breadth are almost essential to the drama. So
it's as well that the transfer has not only preserved the
focus of the original mono, but also managed to confer a real
spatial presence on the digital stereo.
It's no exaggeration to put Callas's 1953 Tosca
in one of the dozen greatest opera recordings so far. Overseen
by recording producer Walter Legge, the re-mastering of these
two CDs (by Christopher Parker) was originally engineered
by Robert Beckett. They must take a significant part of the
credit for what - especially at the price, under £7 the pair
- is a real bargain.
If you don't have a Tosca and want to
experience the opera in one of its first recordings or if
you want to supplement a later recording with singing from
another generation, this reissue should not be passed over.
Other recordings to consider are those by Karajan on Decca
(452620) or Caballé under Davis on Philips (438 359-2PM2).
But not Callas's 1964 recording with Bergonzi under Prêtre,
EMI Studio (69974), to which this reissue is superior.
In fact, for all her legendary - and at times
mythical: there is much misinformation about Callas - status,
hers remains the pure, finely-tuned, at times quizzical, always
assured, often poignant and always wholly beautiful voice.
At 29, it's Callas's bravura, her élan and effortless sheen
that draw you back time and again to this recording. The supporting
roles of Cavaradossi and Scarpia are excellently performed,
full of insight and strength - not to mention tenderness and
There's more: what makes the 1953 Callas/De Sabata Tosca such a satisfying experience is an amazing
freshness borne of his (their) approach to the opera as a
drama. There is no sense ever of rushing from one show-stopping,
applause-garnering aria to another. The tension is sustained
from first note to last as if we, the audience, were absent!
It has its own life. Although the principals were - and are
- world famous, demanding recognition as such, although the
blood runs hot through all those French Revolution era Roman
veins, and although this was a recording celebrating Italian
nationalism as much as anything, conductor, singers, orchestra
- and producer - pay their greatest tributes to Puccini and
his librettist. The result is that this Tosca is not
a 'show'; it's ultimately very human, very real - and very
Although the booklet contains a track-listing
and brief synopsis of the three acts, the libretto itself
is only available online as a PDF at Brilliant's
website. Neither that, nor doubts about the recorded sound,
should deter anyone wanting an emblematic opera recording
from buying this bargain. Splendid.