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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less than the sum of its considerable parts, 29 July 2013
Mr. L. Denham "Lee" (UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Puccini: Tosca (Audio CD)
This was my first Tosca, procured from the library on LP during my teenage years, many moons ago. I have to confess as a work, Tosca made less of an initial impression on me than Boheme, Butterfly and Turandot and I think in retrospect, this recording could be to blame.

Not that there's anything especially wrong with it. The sound is fabulously rich, a real tribute to the Decca engineers at the time. The orchestra, a pick up one of course but one made up of some of London's best players, play wonderfully. However ....

Luciano Pavarotti - his voice never ceases to amaze me and it is on fine form here. He dispatches "Recondita armonia" with a devil-may-care charm that is infectuous and later in Act III, "E lucevan le stelle" with as much intensity and gravitas as anyone could want. However, in between he does sing rather loudly. All the time. There's little variety and so by his own high standards, I consider him on this set to be slightly disappointing and generalised.

Mirella Freni - is one of my most favourite sopranos, I adore her Susanna in the Ponnelle film of Figaro and have yet to hear a purer sung Butterfly than her assumption on the Karajan set. Freni though, charming and innocent, isn't Tosca and great singer though she is, on this occasion cannot disguise this defect. For some reason she doesn't sound in good voice here either - too often she forces her tone to sound more imposing, but it really just doesn't work. She would give a more subtle - and better sung - rendering for Sinopoli on DG some 12 years later.

Sherrill Milnes - is very fine, surprisingly the best thing about this set. He gives a commanding, aristocratic portrayal of the police chief Scarpia which is worthy to stand against the best and - I daresay - this is the set's raison d'etre.

Nicola Rescigno - it was rumoured that Karajan was lined up to conduct this recording and if that was the case, it is to this set's eternal loss, for Rescigno really doesn't bring much to the party. Yes, he directs the traffic competently and no, he doesn't do anything outlandish or vulgar, but at the same time nor does he vary the tension - it all sails along in a nice generalised kind of way. And this is what undermines the whole venture for me - the emotional climaxes do not tug at the heartstrings as they surely can; the Te Deum merely gets louder rather than building to a climax of overwhelming grandeur; the torture scene just sounds like a tricky job interview, rather than turning into something so awful that Tosca is forced to betray all her principles and loyalties. Competency on the podium is fine; but when you are up against the de Sabatas, Karajans, Sinopolis, Pretres and Pappanos in this world, it just isn't enough.

And so fair reader, unless you absolutely must have Freni and Pavarotti together in this work, or are curious to hear Milnes' extremely fine Baron, you would be well advised to seek out your Tosca thrills elsewhere. No wonder this opera didn't make much impression on me all those years ago ....
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Puccini: Tosca
Puccini: Tosca by Mirella Freni (Audio CD - 2011)
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