Puccini: Tosca

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Tosca
PERFORMER: Plácido Domingo, Catherine Malfitano, Ruggero Raimondi, Giacomo Prestia; Rome RAI SO & Chorus/Zubin Mehta
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-12372-2
Presented as a performance ‘in the settings and at the times of Tosca’, this is the soundtrack of the production mounted for television in 1992 jointly by the BBC and Channel 4. The performance took place not only in the actual Roman locales stipulated in the libretto, but also at the correct times of day. Act I was performed and transmitted one July morning in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. Act II, in the Palazzo Farnese, followed that evening and Act III, on the ramparts of the Castel Sant’Angelo, early the following morning.

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On TV, the settings looked magnificent. Of course, one loses all that on CD, but there is a corresponding advantage. Catherine Malfitano and Plácido Domingo looked too mature as the lovers, with the result that one’s suspension of disbelief had to work overtime. On disc, it is easier to appreciate their fine performances. Domingo is a Cavaradossi both stylish and fervent, whose singing becomes more assured as the opera progresses, while Malfitano’s vocal acting is so utterly convincing that an occasional unsteadiness of tone seems hardly to matter.

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Though his bass-baritone is not the ideal type of voice for the role, Ruggero Raimondi is a formidable Scarpia, less subtle than Tito Gobbi’s classic portrayal, but no less menacing. The comprimario roles are all well cast, with Giorgio Gatti an especially engaging Sacristan, and Zubin Mehta conducts an exciting, highly dramatic account of Puccini’s score. This new recording is a strong rival to such favourite Toscas of the past as Leontyne Price and Giuseppe di Stefano conducted by Karajan (Decca), and Callas-Di Stefano-Gobbi conducted by De Sabata (EMI).