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Tosca (Puccini) - Kabaivanska, Labo, Live 1973
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Our titular heroine, however, enjoyed a long and lustrous career in Italy even though she did sing at the Met in the sixties. I seem to recall a Manon Lescaut with Bergonzi broadcast on a Saturday afternoon. In this country we were still in love with Tebaldi, all that plush gorgeous sound that was the vocal equivalent of comfort food. Kabaivanska by contrast had other virtues that the Italians appreciated: even though her vocal resources were less opulent, she had a tang of resin that carried the voice in the house. Her top was more dependable and while she could excel in all the verismo roles her repertoire was more extensive including Elizabeth in Don Carlo and Leonora in Trovatore, the latter documented on a DVD from Vienna conducted by von Karajan. He also conducted her last recording, Falstaff available on CD and DVD. She was never routine nor dull, imaginative and nuanced in everything she sang. She was also lucky to be attractive and blessed with an attractive figure. And unlike the great Tosca who preceded her she was without controversy. Alas Italy did a poor job of documenting her singers. EMI had Callas, London had Tebaldi. Stella barely had a foothold in the studio while Gencer was known as the Queem of the Pirates. She alleged to wear the title gracefully, but I suspect that she would have been only too happy to have a major recording contract behind her.
The Scarpia is sung by a man who was totally unknown to me, Gian Piero Mastromei. Internet research did not reveal a great deal other than some minor roles in a couple of Philips recordings of Verdi operas. Clearly Gobbi, Tadddei and Bastianini had a lock on the baritone roles, but then there was Colzani and Sereni. What an abundance of riches! Mastromei, however, is not an also ran. He had a splendid ringing top and he too had immaculate diction. In spite of his rather "beefy" figure he wears his title of Baron with elegance. His is a performance of distinction.
For those whose memory precedes the digital era, the name of Olivero De Fabritiis is one to be reckoned with in the history of recording going back to the thirties; much of his work has been transferred to CD, much of it probgably currently lingering in some kind of limbo. The Japanese musicians work diligently to give him the ambience that was doubtless in his DNA. These are not Scala musicians but we must be thankful that they give us as much of the score as they do.
One of the irritating features of some of these Vai releases is that the Japanese subtitles were "burnt" into the master tape. Other subtitles are superimposed over the Japanese but the result is a stew that is to me distracting. Watch them if you must, but in any case this should not be yhour only Tosca. There are many choices, but which one? Obviously one or both of Callas' second act recordings are essential. But what of the Tosca of Dessi or Cedolins? Marton? Malfitano? Mattila? Dessi and Cedolins have the virtue of being Italian but little else. Marton Malfitano and Mattila have their virtues, but they are truly to be found in other works. The Zurich production is probably too outre even though it has the glorious Kaufmann, the concept too off putting for most. Behrens in a Met production strikes me as being miscast. Ultimately there is the film with Kabaivanska, Domingo and Milnes utilizing all the locations named. For some lip-synching is anathema; if it well done it is possible overlook the fact that you are not really watching a live performance. The decision is yours, but remember no one said that making the right one was easy!