There could be no justification for failing to award five stars or refusing to pay the high prices sometimes required to buy this classic recording of "La Tosca". The opera itself, already more than 100 years old, is one of the best we have, with three-dimensional characters involved in various levels of conflict, and with a great Puccini score.
Walter Legge was in charge of this production. This "studio" recording was made at La Scala, Milan in the early 1950s. The sometimes-ungrateful acoustics of that renowned theatre have never been heard to better advantage. Just listen to the opening orchestral flourish! Giuseppe di Stefano is vocally very much at home in the role of Cavaradossi, the ardent young painter who is sympathetic to an escaped political prisoner. During his first aria, the comments of the sacristan are not allowed to turn it into a duet. In glorious voice for once, Callas immediately establishes the character of Tosca - imperious, suspicious, and jealous, but at the same time vulnerable and full of longing for the time when she and Cavaradossi can be together after her opera performance of that night. Tito Gobbi too, as Scarpia, is well in command of the vocal range of his part, even the difficult high end, and manages to humanize his role as the manipulative, lustful, and ruthless chief of police.
One does not usually go home after a "Tosca" performance full of admiration for the conductor. The success of this recording, however, is very largely due to the superb drive, thrust and textural clarity achieved by the conductor Victor de Sabata. If any one passage is likely to outlast all others in your memory, it is few minutes before the end of the opera. How that "firing squad" theme seems to shriek here! How proud Tosca seems to sound, now that her successful ruse for faking Cavaradossi's death appears to have succeeded!
Unforgettable moments like this, and invaluable recordings like this, make us grateful to be able to treasure them forever.