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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca – opera in three acts (1900)
Floria Tosca: Leontyne Price (soprano)
Mario Cavaradossi: Plácido Domingo (tenor)
Il barone Scarpia: Sherrill Milnes (baritone)
Cesare Angelotti: Clifford Grant (bass)
Spoletta: Francis Egerton
Sciarrone: John Gibbs (tenor)
Un carciere: Michael Rippon (baritone)
Il sagrestano: Paul Plishka (bass)
Un pastore: David Pearl (soprano)
John Alldis Choir
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
rec. 1972, Walthamstow Town Hall, London. ADD
RCA 88697448122 [45:37 + 66:30]

This is from the same stable as the classic 1970 Il trovatore, with the same three principal singers, orchestra and conductor, and recorded in the same venue for RCA. I have known and prized that recording for nearly fifty years but for some reason never acquainted myself with this companion piece – perhaps because I was always so satisfied with what remains the prime recommendation for “Tosca” the classic Callas recording with Di Stefano and Gobbi, even though that is in mono sound.

This recording has had a number of reincarnations - the one I listened to is on the probably long-defunct Lyrica label - but I do not believe it has ever been reviewed here on MWI.

It shares many of the virtues of Mehta’s Il trovatore: the singing and playing are superb and it is in better sound; there were some peaking issues with that recording which are not apparent here, although sometimes the voices, especially Domingo’s, are close to being overpowered at climaxes. He is nearly drowned out in the first duet, on “Ah! M'avvinci nei tuoi lacci, mia sirena...” but that is probably the fault of the engineering balances. His top notes were never his strongest suit but his sustained top B on “La vita mi costasse” is terrific and otherwise he sings with ringing sincerity, even if his tenor does not have Björling’s gleam or Di Stefano’s animal passion.

Price’s soprano is a touch huskier and smokier than when she recorded her Tosca for Karajan A decade earlier but she is more animated and expressive with the text and she brings her lower register into play to great effect, as in “Presago sospetto!” However, her “Vissi d’arte” is sung in a rather generalised mezzoforte and her “Questo è il bacio di Tosca!” is a harridan shriek, lacking the right kind of power but there are still many highlights: “Io quella lama gli piantai nel cor” is thrilling.

What a pleasure it is to hear Milnes’ bronze tones again, pinning back the listener’s ears from his first entry and dominating proceedings as Scarpia should with his trumpeted tone and perfect Italian. Yes, his manner is a bit Grand Guignol and there’s little of Gobbi’s insinuating subtlety in his portrayal of Scarpia but Milnes’ portrayal is compelling in both vocal and dramatic terms. In many ways he steals the show here, for all his co-stars’ charisma.

The supporting cast is first rate, especially the two basses Clifford Grant Paul Plishka. The shepherd boy treble is perfect.

Mehta clearly has the measure of the score, giving his singers plenty of time to breathe and fill out the big phrases with warm tone. The orchestra is absolutely wonderful throughout; time and again the beauty if the orchestral accompaniment is striking.

This is not the subtlest or most nuanced of recordings of Tosca but it is not an opera that needs finessing; it needs a big verismo singer and that is what it is given here; thoroughly enjoyable.

Ralph Moore

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