Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca - Opera in three Acts [107:58]
Tosca - Maria Callas (soprano); Cavaradossi - Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor); Scarpia - Tito Gobbi (baritone); Angelotti - Franco Calabrese (baritone); Spoletta - Angelo Mercuriali (tenor); Sacristan - Melchiorre Luise (bass); Sciarrone/Gaoler - Dario Caselli (baritone); Shepherd boy - Angelo Mercuriali (treble)
Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Victor de Sabata
rec. Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 10-21 August 1953
no text or translation included
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO 080 [72:03 + 35:54]
Although the words “historic” and “classic” are all too often used to describe any recording more than a few years old which might still be worth hearing they apply with all their original force to this set. Everything came together in the studio to produce a version which grips the listener from start to finish, with no hint of routine, every phrase characterised to perfection, and real theatrical tension. This is due above all to the conductor, Victor de Sabata, who ensures urgency, clarity and apparent spontaneity throughout. Callas and Gobbi are heard at the peak of their form, and comparison with their stereo version in 1964 shows a sad coarsening in both of their performances allied with routine conducting from Georges Prêtre. Even Giuseppe Di Stefano, a very variable artist, is heard at something like his best in the 1953 version; he was replaced by Carlo Bergonzi in the later version.
Understandably this 1953 version has been frequently reissued, and not only EMI but also Naxos, Regis, Brilliant, and probably many others, have it in their catalogues. Andrew Rose, who re-mastered the present version, explains that he felt that a new transfer could only be justified if it brought something really special and new to distinguish it from earlier versions. I have not been able to compare it directly with those others but I accept that what is heard here is much more clear and comfortable to listen to as well as more convincing than those I have heard previously. The sound of the voices has astonishing realism, although their closeness can be a little wearing at times, and re-hearing does increase my incomprehension at the ineffectual realisation of the “effects” built into the score in respect of the cannon shot in the first Act, the closing of the window in the second, and the rifle volley in the third. These are part of the score, not extraneous to it, but were treated almost apologetically by Walter Legge, the producer of the set.
That is however a common problem with all reissues of this reading. One version or another should be in the collection of any Puccini enthusiast, and I can only say that I have had considerable pleasure from this re-mastering. Memories can be unreliable but this is certainly much superior in my memory to the original discs. There are however two irritations which may make you prefer one of the other reissues. The first - the lack of a libretto or translation - is of minor importance when they are easily available either online or elsewhere. The second is more serious. When the whole opera lasts less than two hours, it seems unfortunate as well as unnecessary to divide Act Two between the two discs. Other versions on CD have Acts Two and Three on the second disc. The change here comes immediately after Vissi d’arte. Admittedly, in the theatre, all too often the tension is dissipated with applause but a gap here is something I can do without when listening at home. Whether this is likely to bother you I cannot say. Certainly if it does not this must be accounted a very fine transfer of a performance which can properly be described as historic and a classic.
John Sheppard
I have had considerable pleasure from this re-mastering.