[Met Performance] CID:201620
Tosca {448} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/19/1965.


Metropolitan Opera House
March 19, 1965
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the production funds

TOSCA {448}

Tosca...................Maria Callas
Cavaradossi.............Franco Corelli
Scarpia.................Tito Gobbi
Sacristan...............Lawrence Davidson
Spoletta................Andrea Velis
Angelotti...............Clifford Harvuot
Sciarrone...............Russell Christopher
Shepherd................Stuart Fischer
Jailer..................Robert Goodloe

Conductor...............Fausto Cleva

[Callas' costumes were designed by Marcel Escoffier.]

Review of Irving Kolodin in the April 3, 1965 issue of the Saturday Review

The Callas-Corelli-Gobbi "Tosca"

Cycles of Seven have long been known to exercise a mystical influence which, when multiplied by the special mystical attraction cast by Maria Callas, produced the kind of hysteria that prevailed when she returned to the Metropolitan Opera for the first time since 1958 in a "Tosca" with Tito Gobbi and Franco Corelli. Between the "haut monde" in the expensive seats and the standees who had endured a forty-eight-hour vigil for their places, the atmosphere was not unlike that of the first game of a World Series, in which the loudest applause is for the foul balls.

There was, in consequence, more than a casual amount of variable singing in the first act and part of the second, as the accumulated excitement inclined to isolate the performers from each other rather than to draw them together. But when the moment of reckoning approached and the temperature of the drama rose, it induced the wanted fusion, especially when Corelli as Cavaradossi had been dragged off and the stage was left to Callas and Gobbi.

Adroitly, expertly, skilled by long experience together, they played to each other's strength till it was no longer Callas and Gobbi but Tosca and Scarpia in their immemorial contest. Inevitable as the outcome had to be, when the curtain fell on her stumbling figure backing out the door from the room where Scarpia lay dead, everybody knew why Callas is Callas.

This was no sudden spurt to the finish line for a dramatic effect, but the inexorable period to a long, artfully constructed paragraph of characterization. It had its beginnings in the hostility that bristled in her entrance, her suspicion of a "reason" (female) why Cavaradossi kept her waiting at the chapel door. It turned as quickly to melting tenderness and as suddenly surged to irritation because he was preoccupied and inattentive. By the end of the act, when she was dabbing her eyes in vexation with his seeming deceit, the statement had been clearly made - Floria Tosca was a creature of moods and impulses, as unpredictably apt to chide one who blasphemed before the Madonna as to forgive her own offense, with a vengeful core beneath the overlay of sanctity.

All this is in the text, of course, but not much of it is in the average Tosca, or even those above-average ones who have more beauty of sound to dispose than Callas has, and thus an easier access to audience sensibilities. As she worked on, she left both average and above-average Tosca far behind, as one small detail and then another were woven into her texture of purpose. The best and most original came just where Sardou's play ordained, and Puccini's score confirmed, that it should be.

How Tosca discovers the knife with which she destroys Scarpia is left, mostly, to the individual performer. Callas differed from all the others in the simplest way. She did not discover the knife. The knife discovered her. As she stood at the table, a wine glass at her lips to refresh herself after the tussle with the policeman-lecher, the metal was transformed to a glint in her eyes. A slight hesitation in putting the glass back on the table, a small inclination of the body (nothing gross enough to attract the attention unless one were watching her closely) gave a whisper of the plan forming itself in her mind. It remained but a plan until Scarpia approached; she lunged for the object on the table and in the same motion plunged it into his chest. It was the only way a moody, impulsive, unpredictable Tosca could have done what she had to do, when the vengeful core erupted through the sanctity that enclosed it. Thus was finalized the statement of character which Callas had begun some two hours before.

Of course, during all this time she was singing a good deal, with a vocal resource that seemed under better discipline though with substantially less expressive power than when she was last heard ( also as Tosca) on this stage. What seems probable is that Miss Callas has composed her vocal problem by adopting a production that gives her, for this kind of a role, access to all the notes she needs. But it is without question a hard sound, with fewer variations of color and inflection than she once possessed. When it came to straightforward singing, as in "Vissi d'arte," it was neither beautiful nor beguiling. Rather than being the high point of the effort, as it is for some, it was, with Callas, merely an incident (for all the applause it evoked in certain areas). But where others may falter, she excelled, which gave her effort its own inimitable stamp of dramatic authenticity.

For his part, Gobbi was also at his best where it counted most - at the crux of the drama. He was not quite so resolute in his plan as Callas, deviating to a sortie of sound now and then, as at the end of Act I and the beginning of Act II, which confirmed rather than denied that his vocal reservoir is running drier all the time. However, there is so much cunning in his basic plan, so much skill in his visual implementation of it that he, too, can exchange vengefulness for sanctity and make both equally vivid. Indeed, Gobbi even conveys the idea that Scarpia's zest for violence is psychopathic rather than merely willful, thus completing the equation of conviction.

In this kind of company, Corelli was more often than not merely a tall man with a loud voice, buying audience favor with such childish coin as long-held top notes and, for variety, longer-held top notes. Given his physical advantages and the power of sound he commands, Corelli could make himself a painter-hero of the first rank, but this would take an alteration of attitude for which there is no reasonable hope. There was a moment, during their "love scene" in Act I as Corelli mussed the Callas coiffure more than the text suggests, when it seemed possible that she might have to kill him before she got to Scarpia, but the mood passed. Amid the adult happenings around him, Corelli's rather juvenile approach to the problem marked him as more than a little retarded - though not by conductor Fausto Cleva, who gave the tenor as much latitude for his sins as he did Callas and Gobbi for their virtues.

It was, unquestionably, a night to remember, especially on the next night when Tosca seems dull and lackluster, due to no fault of Sardou, or Illica and Giacosa, who transformed his play into a libretto, or, least of all, Puccini.

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