Giacomo Puccini – Tosca
CAST: Floria Tosca: Mirella Freni, Mario Cavaradossi: Placido Domingo, Vitellio Scarpia: Samuel Ramey, Spoletta: Anthony Laciura, Cesare Angelotti: Bryn Terfel, Sciarrone: Ralf Lukas, Carceriere: Bryan Sembe, Il sagrestano: Angelo Veccia, Un pastore: Lee Tiernan
Chorus and Children’s Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Chorus Master: Robin Stapleton
Giuseppe Sinopoli, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 1992
In the large discography of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca, the present recording distinguishes itself as one of the most elegant and charming ever made. Recorded at the beginning of the Eighties with three operatic stars of the calibre of Mirella Freni in the title role, Placido Domingo in one of his eponymous roles (Mario Cavaradossi) and Samuel Ramey as the Baron Scarpia, it also features one of the leading bass-baritones for the next decades (Bryn Terfel in the cameo role of Angelotti) and, finally a magnificent conductor as Giuseppe Sinopoli. These are, in short, all the elements that make this Tosca an outstanding recording.
Mirella Freni as Tosca
Known as one of the most refined sopranos of her generation, Mirella Freni is also a versatile one. Her repertoire includes the most popular Italian as well as Russian operas, and to each of them she brings her undisputable contribution. In Tosca, she is remarkable for her delicacy and charm. Far from being dramatic to the extreme, she gives prominence to an idealized side of Tosca. In fact, in Freni’s rendition the Roman singer is charming and graceful and, therefore, nicer than usual.
This feature, combined with a way of singing which is rich and soulful, avoids tension towards the character. Instead, it makes the listener well disposed towards her. Although the most characteristic trait of Tosca – jealousy – is well pointed out (in the first act: “Quegl’occhi cilestrini…”, “È l’Attavanti!” and the caressing: “Ma falle gli occhi neri”), Freni is so sympathetic and suave that this defect can easily be forgiven.
In my opinion, then, the greatest merit of Mirella Freni is to have revealed a less predictable trait of her heroine – and this is precisely what makes both of them so brilliant, after all.
Placido Domingo as Cavaradossi
Placido Domingo as Mario Cavaradossi does not really need an introduction. The Spanish tenor has sung it so many times that the painter’s role has become one of those he is more commonly associated with.
In the present recording, Domingo reveals the same abandonment and understanding of Puccini’s music which belongs to Freni, but in a different way. As the soprano, Domingo’s singing is smooth, his accents are meaningful and overall his velvety timbre contributes to the charm of the character. In fact, this Cavaradossi is not distant, but he seems to have the audience constantly in mind when he sings Recondita armonia and E lucevan le stelle. Both these pivotal moments are full of warmth and tenderness that rarely another singer has been able to express with such richness of colours and shadings.
Samuel Ramey as Scarpia
As for Samuel Ramey, he is remote from the more brutal and rough characterization of Scarpia that belongs to some of his colleagues, Tito Gobbi in the first place (1953 and 1964 recordings). On the contrary, there is first and foremost an elegant trait in Ramey’s rendition of the character – an elegance that is well intelligible in his phrasing and attitude. Although this approach contains somehow the excesses of Scarpia, it gives prominence to a smooth singing that is perfectly suitable to the Italian tradition and that is an ideal one for Puccini’s long and vibrant melodies.
Giuseppe Sinopoli’s Conduction
The one who is responsible to create a worthy atmosphere in an opera is definitely the conductor. In the present case, Giuseppe Sinopoli has been an inspired, insightful deus ex machina. Not a single nuance, not a single possibility to express the liveliness or the gloom of the different scenes escaped him. Moreover, his main concern is to give lightness to the music, which appears transparent and soft – and yet, so precise, so fluid, so incommensurably powerful. If someone has ever understood the potentiality of Tosca, Sinopoli is the one.