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Subject: Is the Callas Tosca recording the "best" opera recording ever made?
From: James Camner <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:James Camner <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 2 Jan 2018 12:55:48 -0800
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Once again a critic of the venerable New York Times has stepped up to make
an official pronouncement as Anthony Tommasini has declared the 1953 De
Sabata Tosca set from EMI the "Best Opera Recording Ever".
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/arts/music/maria-callas-tosca-recording.html?_r=0

Is it?

No question the De Sabata recording is superb and I wouldn't argue with
anyone who says it's the best Tosca recording, but it isn't my preference.
If I had to pick one Tosca recording it would be the sumptuous vocal feast
that the Metropolitan Opera presented in 1962 and available in excellent
sound on Sony..

 Vocally this cast: Corelli, Price, MacNeil have much more opulent voices
than Callas, Gobbi or even Di Stefano possessed. Corelli - this is one of
those recordings where the erratic tenor was "on" and when he was "on" he
was simply incredible. Price? She was nearly always on and never better
than in this well mastered 1962 broadcast and MacNeil? Another rock solid
singer. The conducting by Kurt Adler indulges the singers, but with a cast
like this, why not?

I also happen to prefer the 1938 EMI Tosca recording with Gigli, Caniglia
and Bechi. Gigli was Gigli the most important Italian tenor to make a
complete opera recording and he is in fine voice along with the
underappreciated Caniglia and Bechi who is like Gobbi but with more voice,
(it wouldn't surprise me if Bechi was Gobbi's model for this role).

But putting all that aside, can Tosca, which is not even Puccini's finest
work, be the "best ever opera recording"?

I suggest that the Toscanini and Beecham recordings of La Boheme are more
worthy of consideration for such a title.

But neither would be on my own list.

My "best ever" opera recordings would be (in no particular order) the 1912
Pathe, La Favorite (the only truly idiomatic recording ever made of a Bel
Canto opera), the 1940 Metropolitan Opera Broadcast of Otello with Panizza,
the 1947 NBC Broadcast of Otello with Toscanini, the 1950 NBC Falstaff with
Toscanini, the 1935 Die Walkure Act 1 recording with Walter, Melchior,
Lehmann (no one else has come close to this), the 1932 EMI Don Pasquale
with Schipa, the 1941 Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Fidelio with Walter
and Flagstad, the 1955 Decca Le Nozze Di Figaro with Kleiber (despite the
anachronistic harpsichord this has never been equaled), the 1935 EMI Cosi
Fan Tutte from Glyndebourne, the 1937 EMI Die Zauberflote with Beecham, the
1962 EMI Boris Godunov with Cluytens, Christoff, the 1939 Metropolitan
Opera Simon Boccanegra broadcast with Tibbett, Rethberg and Pinza (this is
the finest Verdi singing on a complete recording, period), the 1931 EMI
Werther with Vallin (probably the greatest recording ever made of a French
opera) and the 1930 EMI Faust with Journet.

One could do ok on a desert island with the above. I'm sure list members
have their own "best" ever recordings and I'd be happy to read their
choices. I don't doubt for a minute that Tommasini has probably not heard
most, if any of the recordings I listed. I would also add another one to
the list, and that is the brilliant complete recording of Hamilton made
with the original cast in 2015 and the only recording I've listed that has
its original cast. Some will perhaps argue that Hamilton doesn't belong
with the above, but I believe it is every bit as much of an opera as any of
them and it is my list after all.

Happy New Year!

James Camner

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