Maria Callas: Magic Moments of Music
Puccini: Tosca – Act II (DVD)
Maria Callas, Renato Cioni, Tito Gobbi; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Carlo Felice Cillario; dir. Holger Preusse (London, 1964)
C Major DVD: 745008; Blu-ray: 745104 97 mins
I can’t help feeling that C Major are pushing their luck rather hard with this Blu-ray. Act II of Puccini’s Tosca is, most regrettably, the only complete act of an opera starring Callas that we have on video. Painfully, there are two versions of it: the first in Paris in 1958, with Tito Gobbi as Scarpia, and this one from the great comeback series in London, again with Gobbi. It has been issued several times by EMI/ Warner, most recently in the great ‘live’ opera set released a few months ago. This new disc consists of Act II itself (45 minutes), preceded by various contributors talking about it, with excerpts which amount to most of it pre-played, as it were (52 minutes). Conductor Antonio Pappano says illuminating things about Callas’s voice and what she did with it; but when he tells us that he judges what singers are like by how they ‘sing with their eyes’ one feels that that is the remark of a conductor or someone sitting in the first half-dozen rows of an audience. Certainly from anywhere farther back than the mid-stalls it isn’t possible to see a singer’s expression. Tenor Rolando Villazón tells us how much he wishes he could have sung with Callas; soprano Kristine Opolais is interesting about her acting; singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright appears to be drugged; Tito Gobbi is his expansive self; other admirers say more or less obvious things – but really this material hardly needs seeing more than once. The performance itself remains miraculous, however often you see it, Callas in a class of her own for intensity and depth.