Maria Callas, soprano (Tosca); Giuseppe di Stefano, tenor
Tito Gobbi, baritone (Scarpia);
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro alla Scala, Milan,
conducted by Victor de Sabata.
Review by Wayne Donnelly
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EMI 33CX 1094/5 (Testament Records reissue)
This half-century-old treasure remains the finest recording of Puccini's most dramatic opera, and rates a spot on my short list of best opera recordings of all time. What a cast! Callas' voice had not yet begun deteriorating into the painful wobble of her later years. The young Di Stefano, who was also to see his magnificent instrument deteriorate prematurely, was here in his vocal prime. Gobbi's distinctive, powerful deep rasp is one of the great baritone/villain voices ever. The smaller roles are filled superbly by a seasoned cast. De Sabata's inspired leadership of the La Scala forces illuminates every scene, unerringly supporting the score's tumultuous emotional ups and downs.
The great diva Maria Callas was born to play the diva Floria Tosca, and her interpretation of the role is dramatically incomparable. During her Act 2 confrontation with Gobbi's brilliantly malevolent Scarpia -- the heart of the opera -- Callas is completely convincing as she goes seamlessly from contempt to pleading to murderous satisfaction. And in the final scene, as Tosca first coaches Cavaradossi to act out his supposedly fake execution by firing squad, and then realizes that Scarpia has doublecrossed her and her lover is really dead, still raises chills after many hearings over the years.
Gobbi's Scarpia, by turns obsequious, brazen, lustful and shocked, is the perfect adversary. Cavaradossi doesn't have a lot to do dramatically -- he has showcase arias in
Acts 1 and 3, and in Act 2he needs to scream convincingly offstage as Scarpia's men torture him. Di Stefano is perfect as the naive, idealistic, aristocratic artist, and his singing of the two arias bears comparison with anyone, past or present.
Testament deserves kudos for the flawless restoration of the clear mono sound, and for the immaculately quiet LP surfaces. This release is a significant sonic improvement over both my original Angel LP set and the EMI CDs. In reviewing older recordings of great merit, I have often suggested that such a performance is a worthy complement to a version with more modern sound. In this case, however, stereo be damned -- this is THE
Tosca to have, especially if you are having only one.