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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Floria Tosca – Laila Andersson-Palme (soprano)
Mario Cavaradossi – Rolf Björling (tenor)
Baron Scarpia – Erik Saedén (baritone)
Cesare Angelotti – Anders Bergström (bass)
Spoletta – Lars Kullenbo (tenor)
A sacristan – Bo Lundborg (baritone)
Sciarrone – Sten Wahlund (bass)
A Jailer – Rudolf Dassie (bass)
A Shepherd boy – Lars Bergström (alto)
Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera, Stockholm/Carlo Felice Cillario
rec. live, 20 September 1984, Royal Swedish Opera
Italian libretto with English translation enclosed
STERLING CDA1837/1838-2 [42:42 + 68:12]

When I read the cast list on the back of the jewel box, my mouth watered, since here was a group of singers, regulars at the Stockholm Opera in the 70s and 80s, and most of them I heard more than once in this opera. In particular I looked forward to hearing the three main characters. Laila Andersson was, at the time of recording, in her early forties and at the zenith of her career. Rolf Björling was here in his mid-fifties and more uneven than in the 70s, when he was a sensational Manrico in Il trovatore. Erik Saedén, a pillar of strength at the Royal Opera since the 50s in a total of more than 140 roles, turned 60 this year, but his powers were undiminished as was his expressivity and his superb enunciation. In the pit maestro Carlo Felice Cillario, almost 70 by then but still going strong. I heard him conducting Verdi’s Requiem at the Royal Opera more than ten years later at a memorial concert for the victims of the Estonia disaster. And the supporting cast was just as interesting, from the relative veteran Bo Lundborg via Sten Wahlund and Lars Kullenbo to the youngster Anders Bergström as Angelotti. So the preconditions were promising.

The recording is however a problem. There is no indication whether this was an in-house recording or a live broadcast by Swedish Radio. Whoever made it didn’t manage very well with the balance between pit and stage. The orchestra is very acceptably recorded even though the sound doesn’t belong to the most sophisticated. But the voices are very distantly recorded. Angelotti, the first character to appear, is almost inaudible. My first reaction, remembering the staging, was that he is very backwardly placed, but the Sacristan is just as distant and Cavaradossi too. I had to turn up the volume to a level where the orchestral sound became neighbour-unfriendly, to be able to hear something of the voices with some accuracy. My guess is that the microphones were placed just above the pit, close to the first row of seats in the stalls and that there were no separate microphones specifically directed towards the singers on the stage. This guess is based on the fact that at applause one can hear a lot of individual clapping very close to the microphones. As with many other live recordings one can, with some good will, listen through the sonic barrier and some limited apprehension of the performance, and from what I can perceive I draw the conclusion that it is a pity the overall sound is so limited.

Recondita armonia (CD 1 tr. 3) reveals that Rolf Björling is in good voice, but the tone is a bit hard and he sings most of the aria at a constant fortissimo. Tosca’s distant cries of Mario! Mario! Mario! (CD 1 tr. 5) promise well and Non lo sospiri finds Laila Andersson-Palme in excellent shape. When Cavaradossi reaches Qual’ occhio al mondo his tone has mellowed and he sings with warmth throughout the duet. The scene with Angelotti also goes well and then both disappear and the Sacristan, Bo Lundborg in fine fettle without being too burlesque, arrives with the pupils in the chaotic scene before the altar. Thist is interrupted by the arrival of Scarpia and his henchmen. Erik Saedén is a dangerous chief of police. His voice is far from Italianate, but he has bite and venom and as usual he spits out his consonant with precision. In the Tre sbirri (CD 1 tr. 13) he is in his glory and then the chorus take over with a majestic Te Deum.
The second act is of course the dramatic high-spot in this opera and both Saedén and Ms Andersson-Palme are really good. Cavaradossi is mostly relegated to being tortured off stage but he regains his powers when Sciarrone reports to Scarpia that Bonaparte has won at Marengo, and delivers a brilliant Vittoria! (CD 2 tr. 6). Tosca’s Vissi d’arte (CD 2 tr. 8) is good with strong emotions, and then follows the bargaining with Scarpia before she kills him. The spoken E avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma! (And before him all Rome trembled!) rounds off the act with chilling suppressed wrath.

The shepherd boy’s song in the opening of the last act is very distant but Lars Bergström sings well. E lucevan le stelle (CD 2 tr. 13) is also very distant and the solo clarinet actually drowns the voice. But Rolf Björling sings well with a lot of restraint in the beginning and the end of the aria is gloriously sung. Both singers are at their best in the final scene and Björling sings O dolci mani with warmth though he can’t scale down to the honeyed pianissimo that his father managed on the legendary recording. All in all, however, this must have been an enjoyable evening at the Royal Opera and this is a valuable documentation of the event. A pity though that the reproduction of it is so primitive.

Göran Forsling

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