Tosca – Corelli (1955)


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Corelli, Heredia Capnist, Tagliabue; Votto. In Italian, no subtitles. (1955). 113m. B&W.

Corelli is caught very close to the beginning of his career. With his voice, looks, demeanor and loads of “soul,” it is amazing he didn’t zoom right to the top on the basis of this performance alone. (It took another half-dozen years for him to reach the Met and true international stardom.) Certainly his is the most athletic Cavaradossi I have seen–upon first recognizing Angelotti, he literally vaults over a six-foot-high railing! The tonal quality of his voice is marginally more beautiful than in his most famous years, but on high notes I sense a slight strain that disappeared later.

Tagliabue, usually associated with higher-lying Verdi roles, is a surprisingly good Scarpia. His delivery may not have the natural bite of a Gobbi, Guelfi or Taddei, but he has plenty of voice for a baritone who had 30 years of stardom behind him. Short and with a small frame, he looks like a well-fed Martin Gabel with Melville Cooper’s face. His Scarpia is all evil, with beady eyes and a rat-like profile often shown in extreme close-up.

Renata Heredia Capnist is one of those sopranos who fell between the cracks during the heyday of Callas, Tebaldi, Olivero and Stella. Except for a live Maria Stuarda I have never run across her before, yet she is an excellent Tosca throughout. She’s a fine, lively and attractive actress. Her eyes seem to reflect everything she thinks. The expression on her face when she picks up the knife would be an acting feat of legend if coming from a “legendary” singer rather than the unremembered Heredia Capnist. At certain angles, she actually looks a bit like Callas. Vocally, she is a bit hard at the top, but she gives a heartfelt rendering of “Vissi d’arte,” and her delivery of spoken lines such as “Assassino!” “E avanti a lui…,” etc. is the equal of many more famous interpreters. What a wealth of sopranos operated in this repertoire in the 1950s to make Heredia Capnist an also-ran, but I can’t think of a current Tosca who is any better! Comprimario roles are well done, Antonio Sacchetti producing a real voice as Angelotti and Vito De Taranto looking properly confused as the Sacristan. Antonino Votto, who has taken a beating for years from some critics (John Ardoin especially) simply for not being Toscanini or Serafin, leads a spirited performance throughout. Overall, an excellent Tosca, highlighting a Scarpia with near-Golden-Age ties, a Cavaradossi on his way to becoming the most popular Italian tenor of his time and a Tosca from whom a great deal more should have been heard.–Joe Pearce, President of The Vocal Record Collector’s Society

Corelli’s voice has more brilliance, bite and ring than later and is truer (more focused) in pitch. He may never have been more magnetic or more virile looking than in the Act I duet here.

He snarls like a baritone when he calls Scarpia a lecherous bigot (just before “La vita mi costasse,” in Act I). His trademark diminuendo on the words “disciogliea dai veli” (in “E lucevan le stelle”) is in its infancy. But he doesn’t protract the high A to the point that the shape of the phrase is distorted. (Later in his career he found more pathos and caress and was more “on” in Act III.)

Heredia Capnist and Tagliabue are high-level pros, with an occasional inspired tonal inflection. (The interpretation of Tosca really was perfected by Callas and Olivero, of Scarpia, by Gobbi and, to a degree, Guelfi. At any rate, Melis and Granforte, Scacciati and Molinari, and Caniglia and A. Borgioli are pallid by comparison.) The comprimari, particularly the Angelotti (Sacchetti), are wonderful. Votto generates enormous tension during the interrogation scene.

Bel Canto Society spent a considerable amount of time and money restoring the print of this Tosca. The result is more detailed than the usual Italian made-for-TV film from the 50s, but there was a problem near the upper left of the screen, so it was masked with the words “Bel Canto Society,” faintly inscribed on a black background. For a segment of Act III after “E lucevan le stelle” the master fluctuated in speed. Fortunately, most of this was correctable but some occasional “wow” does remain at that point.–Stefan Zucker