Puccini: Tosca

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

WORKS: Tosca
PERFORMER: Maria Guleghina, Salvatore Licitra, Leo Nucci, Giovanni Battista Parodi; La Scala Orchestra & Chorus/Riccardo Muti
Tosca is one of those ultra-dramatic operas that seem to do better in studio recordings than ones taken live in the theatre. With larger-than-life characters (and Tosca has two), we want the thrill of immediacy, we want to hear every inflection, every snarl. Very few opera houses offer this kind of acoustic and least of all La Scala, Milan, which, on disc at least, is famously dry and unflattering to the voice. This live Sony recording lacks orchestral bite and vocal presence. Maria Guleghina, who can be a thrilling live experience, is rather bland and characterless as captured here. She lacks the prowling panther jealousy of Callas (with de Sabata on EMI) or the slinky beauty of Leontyne Price (with Karajan on Decca). During much of the flesh-creeping torture scene of Act II, Tosca and Scarpia seem to be facing upstage away from the microphones, which detracts considerably from the effect. Elsewhere Muti conjures up some refined sounds, but in this central confrontation he does not achieve the inexorable menace of Karajan and the VPO; and Leo Nucci’s Scarpia is a study in generalised malevolence rather than the sneering and gloating malice of Giuseppe Taddei for Karajan. Salvatore Licitra, who recently signed an exclusive contract with Sony, has an attractive voice and is the best thing on this set. However if you are curious to know how today’s singers match up to Callas, Leontyne Price et al, wait for the release of the EMI Tosca from Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna under Antonio Pappano later this year. Clive Portbury