Notes and Editorial Reviews
Colin Davis, cond; Montserrat Caballé (
); José Carreras (
); Ingvar Wixell (
); Royal Opera House; Covent Garden O & Ch
PENTATONE 5186 147 (2 Hybrid multichannel SACDs: 118:38
This recording was made in the
summer of 1976, in London, and was received with mixed reactions when it first came out. One of its problems was, and remains, the existence of one of the phonograph’s true classics—the first Callas
for EMI, a recording that is virtually unchallenged as
to have if you’re having only one. Then, for those who have trouble responding to Callas’s voice, there are a number of other alternatives with both great singing and plenty of temperament.
Montserrat Caballé was frequently criticized during her career for producing beautiful tone without variety of color or dramatic involvement. Truth to tell, this criticism was always facile and frequently wrong-headed. There is nothing inherently wrong with beautiful singing, and contrary to what some believe it does not always imply the absence of theatrical qualities. Caballé could, when properly inspired by her surroundings, give performances of great dramatic intensity and conviction. They may have lacked the remarkable range of color and subtlety of a Callas—but then again, so did the work of just about every other soprano of the 20th century. Caballé here is convincing—not as fiery and impassioned as Callas to be sure, but at no point do we feel we are listening to a soprano who doesn’t care about text or dramatic situation. Hers is a gloriously sung and deeply felt Tosca, and it is doubtful that you will ever encounter a more stunning rendition of “Vissi d’arte.”
In 1976, Carreras was in his prime, and he sings with beauty of tone and dramatic force. The role is one size too big for him, and it was singing roles like this that began to wear on the voice soon enough, but as we hear it here, this is a performance on the level of the best (which are Di Stefano and Bergonzi, at least in this lyrical vein). I prefer a more Italianate sound and style for Scarpia (Gobbi, of course, but even the Americans Warren and Milnes managed it brilliantly); Wixell is more in the Fischer-Dieskau mode, though there is a bit more ping to the Wixell voice. This is an intelligent, menacing Scarpia, and he and Caballé are very deeply engaged with each other throughout their big scene in the second act.
Colin Davis conducts with elegance, clarity, rhythmic precision, and a sure sense of tempo relationships. This isn’t the blazing conducting of De Sabata on that first Callas set, nor of Mehta or Karajan, both of whom propel Leontyne Price on two different recordings. But it is a valid approach to the score—vividly giving us Puccini’s masterly orchestration, warmly phrasing the melodic line, and never letting the drama flag.
PentaTone has gone back to Philips’s original eight track master tape for this reissue. It plays in regular stereo or surround SACD sound—and I only heard the former. In fact, I compared the stereo sound with my LP originals, and found this more satisfying. The original LP set was fine, but just a bit lacking in clarity and detail; the stereo version of this set balanced warmth and clarity perfectly. Fairly simple notes and a multilingual libretto are provided. As you might be able to tell from this review, I enjoyed hearing this set again (after many years) more than I expected to, and wouldn’t be surprised if that were your reaction as well.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Works on This Recording
Tosca by Giacomo Puccini
Domenico Trimarchi (Baritone),
Piero de Palma (Tenor),
Ann Murray (Mezzo Soprano),
Montserrat Caballé (Soprano),
José Carreras (Tenor),
Ingvar Wixell (Baritone),
Samuel Ramey (Bass),
William Elvin (Baritone)
Sir Colin Davis
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
Written: 1900; Italy
Date of Recording: 07/1976
Venue: Watford Town Hall, London, England
Length: 118 Minutes 36 Secs.
Be the first to review this title