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Subject: Re: Is the Callas Tosca recording the "best" opera recording ever made?
From: Les Mitnick <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Les Mitnick <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 3 Jan 2018 12:17:56 -0600
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Gotta agree with Bob Rideout 1000% on this, with just a couple of my own tweaks.  In general, I find Callas' voice endlessly fascinating (except, of course, on those recordings which preserve her final appearances with diStefano).

While I find great beauty in her singing of the early Cetra "Puritani" scene, I can come up with many later examples.

She FORCES her listeners to pay attention to her, and her voice has so much "face", no matter what the circumstances, that one can actually "see" her performing.  Had she been endowed with an externally tonally perfect voice, she wouldn't have been Callas.  Listening to her sing is like watching a 3D movie.  How she manages this is beyond me.  Sopanos with far more opulent voices have not accomplished this.

     Even her 1959 and 1960 Lucia and Norma recordings have this quality.  While the vocal sound itself may be at the center of controversy, the artistic intentions, phrasing, enunciation, musicianship and the poetry she creates is not.  She still amazes me.  I find her totally different than any other soprano, though I still admire Tebaldi, Milanov, Stella, Freni, Price, Scotto and Caballe.  Callas, however, comes across very differently than any of them, and to a lesser extent, Scotto also.

    Flagstad was a vocal miracle.  The voice and singing was of a quality that is still unmatched.  Speaking of the Isolde Narrative and Curse, there's a recording of her doing it on an EMI recording with, I believe, Elisabeth Hongen, and she tears the roof off.  She turns up the volume on those top notes at the end of the Curse and she produces a Godzilla sound that is almost frightening.  She's much more restrained on the EMI complete recording. which has been flawlessly re-mastered by Pristine (as has her 1950 Furtwangler Ring).  She sounds stupendous, and no apologies need to be made for Ludwig Suthaus either.  If allowed to keep only one of my Tristan recordings, this would be the one I'd cling to.

    Flagstad and Callas -------- magic names, incomparable interpretations, and in the case of Flagstad, a voice beyond description.     Walter Legge was a very fortunate man.   

                                                                                                  Les/Chicago

    

> On January 3, 2018 at 10:33 AM Bob Rideout wrote:
> 
> 
>     Donald
> 
>     Total agreement with every word of your post, especially the last
>     sentence. While it is true that, at least in my opinion, Furtwangler
>     stands alone as a Wagner conductor, and that the sound quality of
>     my favorite performance of Tristan is quite compromised, the
>     combination of prime Flagstad, including those deafening Bs and
>     Cs, and Melchior, provides the most breathtaking vocalism I've
>     ever heard in this music. Covent Garden 1936 and 1937.
> 
>     The conductors are just fine, the other soloists uniformly excellent,
>     and to have heard Flagstad's "Narration and Curse" is to know
>     to what heights the human voice can soar.
> 
>     It's interesting to me that this thread has centered on performances
>     by Callas and Flagstad. I would place Callas' Cetra Puritani "Mad
>     Scene" alongside the Flagstad "Narration..." as the two most perfect
>     blendings of voice and vocalism I've ever heard.
> 
>     For the record, Tom, I consider Maria Callas' voice among the most
>     beautiful I know! To call it less is a valid opinion, but it is certainly
>     not a fact.
> 
>     Bob
> 
>     On Wed, Jan 3, 2018 at 11:09 donald kane wrote:
> 
>         > > Good for you: I don't think Mr. Camner, in his polyglot list of personal
> >         favorites, has applied this level of understanding as to what a perfect
> >         recording entails. The most dubious item on his list is perhaps the
> >         "1938 EMI" TOSCA. It is easy to imagine how an Italian baritone
> >         with the vocal heft and histrionic temperament of Gino Bechi might
> >         have been a memorable Scarpia, but if he ever recorded even an excerpt,
> >         I'm not aware of it. Armando Borgioli, who was the Scarpia, with Gigli and
> >         Caniglia, made a perfectly adequate impression on me when I listened,
> >         side by shellac side, to my very first Italian opera, long, log ago..
> > 
> >         Come to think of it, until the lamentable Bondy version came along, I don't
> >         think I have ever NOT enjoyed a performance of this Puccni masterpiece:
> >         the Carmen Melis, with an awesome Apollo Granforte , Price, Tebaldi,
> >         Milanov, Kirsten, Crespin, Nilsson, Olivero , as well as the "perfect"
> >         Callas, and not to forget Di Stefano, Corelli, and the peerless Colzani,
> >         have all left indelible memories, in and out of the theater.
> > 
> >         Incicidentally, I have never agreed with the elevated status many others
> >         grant to Furtwangler's studio TRISTAN; no performance of that work can
> >         approach perfection IMO, unless the Tristan is as satisfying as the Isolde.
> > 
> >         dtmk
> > 
> > 
> > 
> >         On Tue, Jan 2, 2018 at 4:23 PM, Maxwell Paley wrote:
> > 
> >             > > > I actually do defend that De Sabata “Tosca” as the best yet, as I also do
> > >             the Furtwängler “Tristan.”
> > > 
> > >             I think one can find as good or better an instance of any one component
> > >             elsewhere, but what makes these recordings so great is the particular
> > >             coalescence of conducting, orchestral playing, singing, dramatic and
> > >             musical nuance and expression that added up to much more than the sum of
> > >             the parts.
> > > 
> > >             Aside from still being, at that time, in luxuriant voice, it’s the wealth
> > >             of detail and subtle inflection in Callas’ singing, as with Flagstad’s
> > >             studio Isolde, that raises her performance to such an extraordinary level
> > >             such as Callas herself wasn’t able to replicate.
> > > 
> > >             Max Paley
> > > 
> > >             Sent from my iPhone
> > > 
> > >                 > > > > On Jan 2, 2018, at 13:13, tom ponti wrote:
> > > > 
> > > >                 IMO, the Callas-de Sabata Tosca is a bit overrated. No doubt Callas
> > > > 
> > > >             > > > 
> > >         > > was
> > 
> >             > > > a great Tosca but so were Tebaldi, Olivero and Price with more beautiful
> > >             voices. Though I have not heard it for many years, I preferred the
> > >             Tebaldi, Del Monaco and London recording. I also loved the Price di
> > >             Stefano, Taddei recording. I also think there is no such thing as one
> > >             greatest opera recording of all time. I have heard excerpts, on You Tube,
> > >             of the Met Tosca recording with Price, Corelli, MacNeil and it is
> > >             thrilling!
> > >             >
> > >             >
> > > 
> > >                 > > > > ________________________________
> > > >                 From: Discussion of opera and related issues <
> > > > 
> > > >             > > > 
> > >         > > [log in to unmask] mailto:[log in to unmask] .ORG>
> > 
> >             > > > on behalf of James Camner
> > > 
> > >                 > > > > Sent: Tuesday, January 2, 2018 3:55 PM
> > > >                 To: [log in to unmask] mailto:[log in to unmask] .ORG
> > > >                 Subject: [OPERA-L] Is the Callas Tosca recording the "best" opera
> > > > 
> > > >             > > > recording ever made?
> > >             >
> > > 
> > >                 > > > > 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
> > > 
> > >                 > > > > [https://static01.nyt.com/images/2017/12/27/arts/
> > > > 
> > > >             > > > 30tosca-recording4/30tosca-recording4-facebookJumbo.jpg]<
> > >             https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/arts/music/maria-callas-
> > >             tosca-recording.html?_r=0>
> > >             >
> > > 
> > >                 > > > > The Best Opera Recording Ever Is Maria Callas Singing ‘Tosca.’ Hear
> > > > 
> > > >             > > > 
> > >         > > Why.<
> > 
> >             > > > https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/arts/music/maria-
> > >             callas-tosca-recording.html?_r=0>
> > > 
> > >                 > > > > www.nytimes.com
> > > >                 These 10 clips show why a riveting 1953 version of Puccini’s opera
> > > > 
> > > >             > > > deserves its status as one of the finest classical albums ever made.
> > >             >
> > >             >
> > >             >
> > >             >
> > > 
> > >                 > > > > 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
> > > > 
> > > >                 **********************************************
> > > >                 OPERA-L on Facebook:
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