Giacomo Puccini – Tosca
CAST: Floria Tosca: Renata Tebaldi; Mario Cavaradossi: Mario Del Monaco; Vitellio Scarpia: George London; Spoletta: Piero De Palma; Cesare Angelotti: Silvio Maionica; Sciarrone: Giovanni Morese; A Sacristan: Fernando Corena; A Shepherd Boy: Ernesto Palmieri
Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia
Bonaventura Somma, chorus master
Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, conductor
Decca, 1959 (1991)
Together with Leonora in La Forza del destino, Adriana Lecouvreur and, in the last part of her career, Gioconda, one of Renata Tebaldi’s eponymous roles is certainly Floria Tosca. It is not by chance that one of her most famous pictures portrays her on the cover of Time magazine as Tosca, with her proud, jealous look and the jewels belonged to Josephine de Beauharnais. She sang this role for the first time very early in her career, but, as she confessed later, she left it aside after realising that she was not ready to sing it with the depth it required. In 1959, however, times were ripe for the release of one of the most famous recordings of Tosca. The present recording is not only a milestone in Tebaldi’s discography, but in the discography of Puccini’s opera as well.
Renata Tebaldi as Tosca
In 1959, Tebaldi was at the apogee of her career. Her performances at La Scala were already over (due to the preference of the Italian theatre for Maria Callas), but Tebaldi’s career continued to flourish overseas, where she became a star of the Metropolitan Opera House. There, too, she continued to sing the role of Tosca that she already performed successfully in Italy. This Tosca was recorded in Rome, together with the Orchestra & Coro dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia and under Molinari-Pradelli’s conduction.
If a singer really understood the character of Tosca, this singer is Tebaldi. Despite her “angelical” voice can temporarily distract from other features, she portrays her heroine in the most minute details. The outbursts of jealousy while she sings with Cavaradossi in the first act, her condemnation of Scarpia, her joys and sorrows are all carefully stressed by Tebaldi. Vissi d’arte is remarkable for being not the self-pity of a desperate woman, but her disconsolate meditation. In this way, she honours the lyricism that always characterizes her singing. If her performance is not as dramatic and tragic than that of other singers, it is absolutely outstanding for her finesse and purity. She is Tosca not only vocally but also psychologically and presents us a true human being.
Mario Del Monaco as Cavaradossi and George London as Scarpia
Mario Del Monaco is definitely one of the greatest tenors who sang Puccini and Verdi in the 20th century and his greatness is clear in this recording. His voice is powerful, his high notes are booming and the legato of his singing is admirable, especially when he sings his pivotal moments Recondita armonia and E lucevan le stelle. His vocal generosity is sometimes excessive, but always honest and heartfelt. Furthermore, the blend between his voice and Tebaldi’s is always phenomenal, as it has been noticed many times.
George London is the perfect Scarpia. He combines the strongest dramatic personality with extraordinary vocal power. He is sly, perfidious and arrogant and you recognize the villain from his first sentence. It seems that there is no limit to the meanness of this Scarpia, but London stresses also the haughtiness of his character.
The Other Singers and the Conductors
The rest of the cast sings minor roles, but some of the names (and of the performances) are remarkable. The most important one is that of Fernando Corena as an ironic sacristan and his eccentricity suits very well to his character. Mention of honour to Piero De Palma, who sings another one of his roles (Spoletta).
Francesco Molinari-Pradelli conducts Tosca with decision and energy. The music flows with lightness, but the most dramatic passages are carefully stressed. Overall, his conduction is precise and accurate and has the most insightful sensibility.