PUCCINI: Tosca (complete opera) – Monserrat Caballe, Jose Carreras, Ingvar Wixell, Samuel Ramey/ Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus, Covent Garden/ Sir Colin Davis – PentaTone Classics

by | Jan 30, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

PUCCINI: Tosca (complete opera) – Monserrat Caballe, Jose Carreras, Ingvar Wixell, Samuel Ramey/ Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus, Covent Garden/ Sir Colin Davis – PentaTone Classics Multichannel (4.0) SACD PTC 5186 147, (2 discs), 46:17 & 72:19 *****:

At long last! This has always been one of my favorites—Jose Carreras has never been captured in such glorious voice, and his Cavaradossi is one of his finest (indeed, one of the finest) portrayals on record. Just listen to the emotional import of ‘E lucevan le stelle’, suitably dramatic with endless emotive investiture yet not overblown or comical. The voice is in magnificent shape, rich, smooth, and powerful. His performance is the real reason to acquire this reading.

But the others are hardly slouches, either. Monserrat Caballe may not have the dramatic skills that Maria Callas brings to this role in her classic EMI desert island recording, but neither does anyone else, and while that recording will probably always stand as the definitive Tosca, there is certainly room at the top for other terrific performances, and this is one. She is fully involved with the character and doesn’t play the role for histrionics, but instead as a complex woman who is thrown into a difficult situation and attempts to deal with it as best she can, until there are no more options. Fate after all, conspires against her best intentions, and in the end she is undone, but never does she lose her cool and capitulate until all other avenues are closed. Caballe seems to understand this, and sings accordingly, maturely, and without hysteria.

Ingvar Wixell has always been underrated as Scarpia, but his threatening, menacing performance is enough to convince any listener of the character’s inability to see beyond his own immediate desires. The voice is not as big as some Scarpias, but makes up in intensity what it lacks in bulk. Likewise this is a fine outing by the young Samuel Ramey as Angelotti, showing us then what he would continue to do for years to come.

Philips recorded this in quadraphonic sound in 1976, but it was only released in stereo at the time, and no true quad mix existed. Actually, due to the vagaries of opera requirements, the engineers used not four but eight separate tracks for this Tosca. For the PentaTone release, the engineers made use of all eight tracks in the creation of a Super Audio four channel recording, so we are hearing this marvelous performance in surround sound for the very first time. The results are simply superb, with a spaciousness and breadth to the audio that really make Tosca shine.

This was always a great-sounding recording, and the orchestra at Covent Garden outdoes itself. The sneering, mocking horn melody at the very end of the recording is truly eerie, and maestro Davis has the entire ensemble in stellar form. Don’t miss this landmark issue—it won’t be your only Tosca (you have to have Callas) but it might end up as your favorite.

— Steven Ritter
 

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