There’s not a lot of film footage of Maria Callas performing and most of what there is is of concerts. What makes this disk special is that it contains the whole of Act 2 of Tosca recorded at the Royal Opera House on 9th February 1964. It’s a Zeffirelli production and Tito Gobbi sings Scarpia with Renato Cioni as Cavaradossi. It gives, I think, a pretty good idea of Callas’ appeal as an actress and as a personality. She is fascinating to watch but in many ways quite hard to listen to. My partner, who was in the next room, thought I was listening to an atonal modern piece, which is as much as I’m going to say about accuracy of pitch. I found myself more caught up in thinking about that modern audience segment that wants to go back to “the good old days” because if this is representative I think they are nuts. It’s not about Callas. Well directed I think I’d have enjoyed seeing her. It’s the overly melodramatic, well, everything. OK, I know it’s Tosca but Gobbi’s eye rolling scenery chewing is like three Bryn Terfels without the self deprecating twinkle in the eye. One wants to shout “watch out for the crocodile!” And is he ever loud? At first I just thought it was a recording balance thing but I don’t think so as he sounds way louder than the other singers. It’s hard (and probably unfair) to judge a voice on the basis of a rather ropey recording like this but I wouldn’t pay to hear barking like this.
The other half of the disk consists of tu che le vanità from Don Carlo and some excerpts from Carmen recorded at a gala concert in November 1962. The Verdi really reinforced my impressions of the Tosca. It’s melodramatic to the max. No-one would dream of singing it like that anymore and, although it has a certain fascination, I’m rather glad that is so. The Carmen excerpts though are rather charming. I think I would have enjoyed seeing her in that role. As a bonus one gets to see an absurdly youthful Georges Prêtre in the pit.
This DVD is very much a historical document. The black and white 4:3 picture is pretty ropey and the mono sound is only so-so. As a benchmark of what 1960s opera was all about though I think it’s worth a look.