In the early '60s, Maria Callas' mystique was in full bloom, but her career was in question, marred by frequent absences and cancellations. This 1964 production of Tosca was a triumph, however, showing her detractors that her voice was still intact, and reinforcing her fans' belief that she was the ideal diva -- brilliant of voice, and convincing on-stage. Tosca was the perfect role for Callas; she was the personification of the diva she played on-stage, and her acting brought an excitement to the part that few sopranos have equaled. This performance does show signs of vocal wear -- high passages have lost their bloom and taken on a slow wobble -- but it also has her more possessed of herself as an artist than she was even in her famous performances from the 1950s. Her "Vissi d'arte" alone is enough to show her command of music and the stage. The sound quality is better than her live performances from Mexico. Even non-Callas fans will be interested in this Tosca, largely for the callous and magnetic Scarpia of Tito Gobbi, who is at his best here. Many baritones have brought bigger and more beautiful baritone voices to bear, but Gobbi had a special feel for this part -- how to realize a loathsome man in music while remaining real and human. Renato Cioni makes a good Cavaradossi, although not on the level of his co-stars. Carlo Felice Cillario's musical leadership is excellent, resulting in a much tidier and compelling orchestral sound than is found in many live recordings, especially from that era. This is probably not the right choice for a first or only Tosca, but fans of Callas, or just fans of the opera will find a lot to enjoy here.
Puccini: Tosca Review
by Allen Schrott