[Met Performance] CID:173150
Tosca {348} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/15/1956.

(Debut: George Keith
Reviews)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 15, 1956


TOSCA {348}
Puccini-Illica/Giacosa

Tosca...................Maria Callas
Cavaradossi.............Giuseppe Campora
Scarpia.................George London
Sacristan...............Fernando Corena
Spoletta................Alessio De Paolis
Angelotti...............Clifford Harvuot
Sciarrone...............George Cehanovsky
Shepherd................George Keith [Debut]
Jailer..................Louis Sgarro

Conductor...............Dimitri Mitropoulos

Director................Dino Yannopoulos
Designer................Frederick Fox

Tosca received twenty-three performances this season.

Review of Jay S. Harrison in the New York Herald Tribune
Maria Callas' appearance as Tosca last night-her first at the Metropolitan-illuminated quite a few matters that had been left obscure by her recent interpretations of Norma. Thus, on the basis of her present performance this much is sure: her soprano is not big, nor is it of a quality even approaching velvet. Indeed, there are moments, especially in the top register, when the tints in her voice prick the ear like barbs. Also, she has a perceptible wobble and her scale is neither even nor smooth.

The question then arises, what does it all mean? And the answer, as I read it, is simply that when Miss Callas is shaken with nerves or is otherwise ill at ease she passes as a perfectly respectable singer of no enormous distinctions; but when she warms to a role, squares her shoulders, digs her nails into her palms and pitches in, she can set a house afire with a single jabbing gesture or a single withering look.

Stragely enough, too, last night's performance of the first two acts of Puccini's masterwork quite strikingly revealed both sides of Miss Callas' remarkable dual nature. In the first act-though she looked like Audrey Hepburn and could easily have walked out of a bachelor's dream-her portrayal was rather pale, her entire manner somewhat vague and unfocused. The grandeur of the part was not with her, and she seemed distant, remote, her voice as well, taking on precisely those qualities. In consequence, the electricity native to the act was no brighter than that produced by a five and dime store flashlight. A pity, one thought; Callas is not the Callas we have heard of for so many years.

And then, in the roar of applause, the curtain descended. Twenty minutes later it rose again and there for all the world to see, transformed as if by witchcraft, was Maria Callas as she is known to legions of admirers throughout the world. Her voice steadied, its pitch punctured notes like so many tooled arrows, and its color lightened, brightened and finally glowed. But actually there is no need for a further discussion of Miss Callas' vocal abilities, since its sound stage is scarcely different from its echo on records. But records, even the best of them, are cold, mechanical devices and Miss Callas is anything but a cold or mechanical creature.

In the second act, for instance, she reacted to the hideous net of events gathering around her exactly, I imagine, as any major actress absorbed in playing a part. Her despair at Cavaradossi's torture, her revulsion over Scarpia's lust, her resignation as she realizes that she is lost were all tightly etched in her face; and even her muscles grew visibly tense as she moved from one tormenting scene to another.

Despite this, however, Miss Callas is a very feminine Tosca, never an Italian Brunnhilde out to beat her way into the listener's sensibility with train-whistle blast of sonority. In fact, a quite convincing argument could be made out of the condition that the soprano's youthful femininity detracts a mite from the more regal, majestic and mature aspects of the role. But, no matter. A singing actress is a joy to behold; and at her best Miss Callas is just such a joy.

The remainder of the principals fared exceedingly well which is all the more laudable as Maestro Mitropoulos placed obstacle after obstacle in their way. The orchestra was coarse and loud beyond endurance and the tempos were so sluggish that frequently the opera seemed to be moving in slow motion. Still, Mr. London was a ringing and resonant and darkly evil Scarpia, and Mr. Campora sailed through his lines, even the highest, with the ease of a wind-swept kite. The evening, largely though their efforts was, as a result, a handsome one. And Miss Callas, while her Tosca could by no means be termed spotless, began to grow comfortable on the Met stage and spares not a single effort to prove it.



Review of Ronald Eyer in Musical America

The most uproarious reception accorded any opera performance in New York within recent memory all but engulfed the first "Tosca" of the season, which starred Maria Meneghini Callas in the title role (the only role besides Norma in which she has been heard here thus far), with George London as Scarpia, Giuseppe Campora as Cavaradossi and, at the conductor's desk, Dimitri Mitropoulos.

It was one of those rare evenings in the theater when performers and audiences are in direct communication and full rapport with each other. Each alternately spurred the other to ever-greater heights of expressiveness and response in the unfolding of Puccini's grisly drama until the players literally had given their all and the spectators had achieved catharsis in billowing applause, cheers and countless curtain calls which only the lowering of the fire curtain finally brought to an end.

Much of the excitement, of course, was generated by this first appearance of Miss Callas as Tosca. But there were ovations for everyone. From the moment of his sudden, breathtaking entrance like the black angel of death, Mr. London received wave after wave of applause for the intensity and the evil grandeur of his impersonation. Not for a second did he relax his grim portrayal of the lustful, murderous tyrant, and his vocal performance matched the visual one at every turn. Mr. Campora, young and handsome as any Mario Cavaradossi could hope to be, gave a gripping performance as the defiant prisoner in Act II, and his convulsion and collapse before the firing squad in the finale was shockingly realistic. Meanwhile he sang, in his "E lucevan le stella" the stentorian "Vittoria!" and elsewhere, with a pure, lovely quality, perfect intonation and immense power when required. He, too, was applauded to the echo. Also on the receiving end of a prolonged ovation, at the beginning of the third act, was Dimitri Mitropoulos for the thrust, the color and the heavily underscored dynamics of his direction, not only of the orchestra but of the whole production, His was a torrid, sometimes eccentric, but dramatically defensible, reading which made most others sound downright namby-pamby.

As for Miss Callas, she revealed again, only more so, that she is one of the greatest dramatic singers of our time. Her Tosca - coldly beautiful and almost bonily slender - was by turns a rather shrewish minx, a passionate Latin woman of mercurial temperament fully capable of the impulsive murder, and a tender young girl eager for Mario's love. It was a fiery, yet not warm, characterization. It was Miss Callas' own image of the part thoroughly studied down to the last detail and invested with living personality. Everything, including the voice, was thrown into the dramatic requirements of the moment, and as one was swept along by this living, breathing vision of reality, he forgot such purely musical discrepancies as the uneven scale, the hard and sometimes wobbly quality of the full voice in high range and the over-conscious manipulation of each tone for both quality and intonation. As a matter of fact, Miss Callas used the voice as an extension, a tool of her dramatic projection, and. few will deny that she did it with stunning effectiveness. When she had only to sing, as in the "Vissi d'arte," the voice could he quite beautiful, especially in the middle and low range and in mezza voce,

In the supporting roles. Fernando Corena was a droll, but happily restrained, Sacristan; Alessio De Paolis played with his inimitable artistry the cringing Spoletta; and Clifford Harvuot was the convincingly unnerved escapee, Angelotti. Others in the cast were George Cehanovsky, Louis Sgarro and the boy soprano, George Keith.

It would be easy to find a number of finicking faults with this production from a pedantic point of view - even from a purely musical point of view. But much must readily be forgiven in deference to the total artistic and theatrical effect, which, after all, is the only really important consideration. "Tosca," thrice-familiar though it is, was tremendously impressive and exciting as set forth here, and all credit must be given to the sound talents and instincts which brought it about, let the chips of carping criticism fall where they may.



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