[Met Performance] CID:173190
Tosca {349} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/19/1956.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 19, 1956


TOSCA {349}

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
Jailer..................Louis Sgarro

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

Review of Irving Kolodin in the Saturday Review

Whatever Maria Callas's future Metropolitan career may be, she has already done what no performer of any recent time has accomplished - a first-class Tosca in the same week in which she sang another expert Norma. In a cast ardently conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos and with George London and Giuseppe Campora as bases of the equilateral triangle, she gave a sharp sense of life and meaning to a project that is all too often only theatrical.

There may be sound basis for arguing which singer, of all contemporaries, is the most voluptuous sounding Tosca, the most ample in vocal volume, the most unwilling partner to Scarpia's intentions, but Callas strikes me as the most credible Tosca of our time. She sings her music with the instincts of an actress and phrases her acting with the instincts of a fine musician. Slight in appearance but commanding in manner, she is believable from the first byplay with Cavaradossi, responsively jealous to Scarpia's trickery, and an avenging fury in the moment most foreign to Tosca's true nature, when a knife becomes the key to her dilemma.

Even for those whose knowledge of the Italian text derives from the printed page rather than a close familiarity with the language, it was clear that Callas was merging word with note in a way that might cost her something in purity of sound but made an explosive totality. The dialogue was delivered as dialogue (Callas is the rare performer who works to her dramatic vis-a-vis rather than to the audience), but when she came to "Vissi d'arte" there were full resources of vocal color and eloquence to give it sure effect. Notable too were the variations of movement to suit the situation - the quick eager steps when she was looking for Cavaradossi in Act I, the complete bodily dejection when she was at Scarpia's untender mercy in Act II and knew it, the upsurge of spirit when she came upon the weapon. Of note, too, the plan of gesture was of another sort than in her Norma; the strong design for the part still allowed for improvisation in the heat of performance.

Recognizing the basic sound for what it is - whitish and variable - there were few notes not securely in place, cleanly, clearly articulated with her own kind of bland coloration, which is not to everybody's taste but should be to anybody's comprehension. I would have welcomed more thrust in such spoken words as "Assasino" and "Muori, muori," as Scarpia is dying. The voice loses something of carrying power when (as in the case of the first) her target is upstage or, in the second, truly downstage (on the floor). Also it lessened the effect for Miss Callas to pose as long as she did in the doorway at the end of Act II. The stage direction says she departs "cautiously," but it would seem pure instinct for a murderess to get away with all dispatch, particularly one bent on saving her lover from a firing squad. For those with an eye as well as an ear for their Toscas, Callas carried the long-skirted blue-on-blue gown of Act I with an air, and was appropriately regal in black-with-brilliants in Act II.

Thanks to Mitropoulos's strong leadership this was altogether a "Tosca" of vigor and intensity. Campora's likable voice and appealing manner leave him still somewhat boyish for Tosca's ardor, but he performs well, within his vocal limitations. London's Scarpia has gained ease and authority since his first performances of a few seasons back, but it requires more modulation of effort, a lessening of sheer physical output, to achieve distinction. To his credit, he maintained a suitable place in the stage picture while Tosca sang her prayer, no common attribute of Scarpias. Mitropoulos's reappearance in the Metropolitan pit brought a warm greeting from the audience, an odd contrast with the polite gestures that prevail at the Philharmonic. The fact is, with all his labors in the symphonic groves, he is much more dynamic and purposeful in the opera house, also capable of the quick adjustment necessary when London lost his place momentarily in Act I and had to be cued back as the music went on.



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